Paige VanZant has quickly asserted herself as one of the brightest personalities and most promising young fighters of the strawweight division. While she didn't compete as a cast member of TUF 20, and thus didn't have a shot at winning the inaugural title, she put on a dazzling performance in her debut against Kailin Curran. Coupled with her willinness to embrace the spotlight, she's out-shown many of her peers, even without the platform of TUF to do it. In her media scrum at UFC 183, she went so far as to say she "dodged a bullet" by staying out of the TUF house, and given the attention she's gained, it's hard to disagree.
Of course, not all that attention has been entirely positive. Here recent remarks about expecting a fight with Herrig, because they are "The hot girls in the sport," has led to some backlash from her peers. Notably Joanne Calderwood, who has been having trouble getting the UFC to book her for a fight, felt that VanZant's sentiments cast a bad light on the sport's integrity, saying "I would hope that it doesn't come down to their looks, because this is sport and at the end of the day it shouldn't come down to whether you're good looking or not, it should be because you're a good fighter or not."
VanZant responded to the criticism of her statements at the presser, making it clear that her experiences with being bullied have made her more confident in, and comfortable with, her appearance:
You know, I think that me and [Felice Herrig] will always get perceived that way. You know, I was saying that that's what other people think about us. And, you know, we were born this way, it's nothing that we can change. That just means that we both have to prove that we're the toughest people out there. I'm going to go out there and prove that I'm not just a pretty face.
No, it's definitely what I expected. I was bullied a lot in high school, and I think a lot of that had to do with, I guess, my looks. Going back, I wouldn't change it, because it made me stronger. And, I'm too strong for them to shake me.
Yeah, you know, high school was pretty rough for me. I actually graduated, I went to college when I was 16, just to get out of the whole high school thing. Didn't want to deal with any of that anymore. So, I went through so much that everything that happens now, no matter what people will say, these are people that I don't know and people I don't think about, so what they say doesn't faze me.
She also spoke about the opportunities that her popularity has given her to be a role model:
It's amazing, I really want to be a voice for young girls that have also been bullied. I went through a lot growing up, and it's things that, if I talked about, you wouldn't even believe. It was a rough few years in high school, so I just want to be a voice for them and say that "You don't have to play the victim, you can play the survivor and the fighter."
Paige VanZant is currently scheduled to fight Felice Herrig at UFC on Fox 15 on April 18th, in Newark, New Jersey.
If the Ooyala embed above isn't working for you, check out the full interview over on YouTube.