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Austin Vanderford: Paige VanZant is ‘a big part of my journey’ to being world champion

The unique dynamic of having a wife with the same aspirations is not lost on Austin Vanderford.

Austin Vanderford Bellator 224 Paige Van Zant PVZ Photo by Chris Unger/DWTNCS LLC

Many fighters build life-long bonds with their training partners, but not many of those dynamics are as close-knit as Austin Vanderford and Paige VanZant.

In a recent interview with Bloody Elbow, the Bellator middleweight openly expressed what it means to have his wife, VanZant, in his corner—not just in the cage but in life.

“It’s a unique dynamic,” Vanderford said, ahead of his fight with Grachik Bozinyan at Bellator 224. “It’s something that is fun. It’s so crazy. We were just thinking about it earlier too. We’re over in Israel right now getting ready for a fight. All the amazing experiences and memories that we get to create with one another. We know what the other is going through. We know the nerves, the ups and downs. It’s a special dynamic. Not many fighters get to experience that.”

“She’s there for 99% of my training and I’m there for 99% of hers,” Vanderford continued. “She knows me better than anyone else. She’s the one who talks to me when the doors are closed. She gets the raw emotion of me. She knows everything about me. It’s awesome. It’s something that I’m really grateful for. It’s a big part of my journey. A big part of my journey to becoming a world champion is having her.”

Vanderford got major headlining experience when he received top billing opposite Jake Shields at Submission Underground 8 in May.

“It was a cool experience getting to headline the show and going up against a guy like Jake Shields,” Vanderford admitted. “I went into it with the same expectations going into anything, I expected to win. Unfortunately, I didn’t end up getting the win, but it was an awesome learning experience and I held my own. I got to learn some things and it was a fun thing to do while waiting to compete in MMA... Any level of competition, especially competing against a high-level game opponent like that, just benefits you. I don’t see any negatives from it unless you get hurt.”

Vanderford meets Bozinyan at Bellator 224 on Thursday. The event is expected to be headlined by heavyweights Sergei Kharitonov and Linton Vassell.

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