Back in 2016, it seemed the UFC had a surefire future star on their hands in Paige VanZant. The then 22-year-old had put together a 3-1 record with the promotion – including a remarkable performance in a loss to future champion Rose Namajunas – and had become a celebrity even outside the narrow circles of MMA fandom for her strong run on Dancing With the Stars.
Fast forward a few years and VanZant is on her way out of the world’s largest MMA promotion, leaving a 5-4 record inside the Octagon in her wake—with three losses in her last five fights. Mixed in with those losses have been a string of injury troubles, mostly centered around a broken arm suffered in a 2018 bout against Jessica-Rose Clark.
For a fighter once headlining events for the promotion, her fall has been swift.
“I like Paige,” White told reporters following the final fight on VanZant’s contract—a loss to streaking prospect Amanda Ribas at UFC 251. “It’s like Blaydes, when Blaydes fought last. When you talk all that stuff, ‘I’m not being paid enough,’ and fighting inconsistently, one time in the last year, injuries, and then got smoked in the first round of the fight, she should definitely test free agency.”
And while losing to Ribas is, without a doubt, not how VanZant wanted to take that plunge into MMA’s open market, in a recent interview with MMA Fighting she sounded fairly at peace with the whole turn of events. “12 Gauge” told the outlet that, while she had feared she might have to have another round of surgery on her arm, she is in fact feeling 100% healthy at the moment and “hoping to sign a new fight promotion with somebody and fight this year if I can.”
Mostly, VanZant says she wants to fight again “as soon as possible,” to “go ahead and delete that last fight and start over.” From this point foreward, it seems she’s fully focused on making her comeback.
“I’m sad about the way it went,” VanZant admitted, speaking of her loss to Ribas, “but this is the first time in my entire career where, I [usually] get emotional after losses, and most times I’ll cry for like a week, but this fight, I only cried for like an hour after the loss. For the first time in my life, I finally realized the losses definitely don’t define you.
“Maybe I did have to hit rock bottom. It’s just going to make my comeback story that much greater coming off a loss and an arm injury, and I have 10-plus years to fight and show off how good I am.”
VanZant’s loss to Ribas came on July 12th. And while UFC contracts usually come with a 90-day exclusive negotiation period, it can be waived at the promotion’s discretion. After that restriction has expired, the UFC also usually retains matching rights on a fighter’s deal for up to one year after the contract’s expiration. It seems doubtful in this case that VanZant would end up back with the UFC after White’s words following her latest defeat, but stranger things have happened.