Paige VanZant doesn’t care if you think she’s a jack of all trades and master of none. At age 22, she is unapologetic about exploring all of her varied passions, which include modeling, acting, dancing and writing, along with being one of the best strawweight fighters in the UFC.
But VanZant’s pursuits haven’t come without controversy. Her recent career as a model, along with her continued run-ins with Hollywood—particularly concerning a movie deal she ultimately turned down earlier this year, as well as her appearance on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” in the spring—have caused some onlookers to say she isn’t a serious fighter. If you ask her, though, her versatility is what makes her so unique.
“I feel like there’s nobody like me [in the UFC] and that’s why so many people have gravitated toward me at such an early point [in my career],” VanZant told Excelle Sports. “That’s why I’m headlining events already.”
[More from Excelle Sports: The sources of Michelle Waterson’s motivation]
VanZant (7–2 MMA, 4–1 UFC) will headline her next UFC bout this Saturday against former Invicta FC atomweight champion Michelle Waterson (13–4 MMA, 1–0 UFC) at UFC Fight Night Sacramento. It will mark the second headliner of her UFC career—the first came in a loss to Rose Namajunas last December.
Based on her recent history, VanZant appears to be up for the challenge Saturday. She’ll enter Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center on the heels of an impressive switch-kick knockout win over Bec Rawlings in August, proving that her many interests away from the UFC haven’t hindered her ability to perform in the Octagon.
“I’m very good at [MMA] and I can get very far in this sport, but I’m also very talented at so many other things,” said VanZant, who finished as the “Dancing With The Stars” runner-up in May. “There’s no reason for me to just put myself in one position and say that’s all that I can do. I’m going to do absolutely everything I want to do—whatever I’m passionate about.”
VanZant’s passions stretch beyond the entertainment realm, as well. She says she wants to make an impact on those who have experienced adolescent bullying. With this, the cause is personal: While in high school in Oregon, VanZant says she was severely bullied by older girls after she made her school’s varsity cheerleading squad as a freshman. The experience was one of the darkest times of her life, according to VanZant, but she has since vowed to serve as a positive example for others in similar situations. To that end, she is currently working on a memoir about her life in the hope that it will help call attention to the problem.
[More from Excelle Sports: Holm will fight for featherweight title]
“I went through something really hard and it helped shape me,” VanZant said. “It has helped me to want to show girls and guys [in similar situations] that they can do whatever they want to do.
“I feel like I was put in this position to be an advocate for everybody who is struggling and wants to do something that they feel like they can’t do.”
The example VanZant has set in the UFC so far has been a good one, too: She has won four of her last five fights and is currently listed as the No. 7 fighter in the strawweight division. A win on Saturday would likely vault her into contention for a shot at Joanna Jedrzejczyk’s belt in the near future.
“I love the position that I am in,” VanZant said. “I’m really happy that I get to be where I am and blessed to be in the UFC with so many opportunities. I’m just doing my own thing.”