Paige VanZant: A Second Chance as the Headline Act
It was almost exactly one year ago that ’12 Gauge’ Paige VanZant last entered the cage for a UFC main event. On that night VanZant would take on fellow young top contender Rose Namajunas in a Fight Pass event headliner. Though she entered with great momentum and hype due to her 3-0 record in the UFC, in the end, it wasn’t to be VanZant’s night.
Namajunas’ striking was too technical and her grappling simply too much. Though she seemed completely outmatched from early on, VanZant showed lots of heart, escaping multiple tight submission attempts as she simply refused to quit. Eventually, she would succumb to a fifth round rear naked choke after 22 minutes of punishment.
VanZant has only had one fight since that night and is already heading into her second UFC main event. However, though her activity inside in the cage hasn’t been great, lots has changed in VanZant’s life since that harsh Namajunas defeat.
A highly successful run on Dancing with the Stars this year has grown the 22-year-old’s star exponentially and that’s best represented by the platform of which VanZant’s second foray into the main event is on. One year ago, VanZant’s fight with Namajunas was on Fight Pass and took place in front of just 1600 people in Las Vegas. This Saturday she headlines a FOX card in an arena befitting of a UFC PPV event.
It’s not just VanZant’s Dancing with the Stars exploits that has grown her star though. Whilst VanZant has only entered the cage once since her first defeat inside the octagon, it was a memorable showing to say the least. ’12 Gauge’s return came in late August as she took on the gritty Bec Rawlings on a FOX main card.
Can VanZant Handle The Pressure
VanZant had lots of pressure on her going in with it being her first fight following both the loss and Dancing with the Stars. When a fighter is coming off of a loss the focus is always on how they bounce back. Combat sports history is littered with cases of fighters struggling to ever fully rebound following a tough defeat.
Ironically, it is also littered with fighters suffering when too much time has been spent on activities outside of the cage in the limelight. Understandably, there was more focus on VanZant than ever before.
Success wouldn’t come immediately in the fight either as Rawlings used to pressure to control and dictate much of the action early. In fact, Rawlings likely won the first round and all sceptics suddenly were seeing all of their doubts vindicated.
Then everything changed when at the very start of the second round VanZant landed a spectacular leaping switch kick, dropping Rawlings in the process. Seconds later and it was all over, in the blink of an eye VanZant had closed the show in highlight-reel fashion.
One kick went viral and erased the quite tough first five minutes of fighting. Simplistic as it may sound, wild knockouts have always been helpful in gaining popularity but in the current world of gifs and short video clips, it can transform the way a fighter is perceived in an instant.
Erasing Any Doubts
This was a great example of just that as VanZant seemingly erased any doubts surrounding her future as an elite fighter with a single kick. However, on the biggest stage of her career this Saturday night, VanZant will need to do it all over again as she takes on the more experienced and seasoned Michelle Waterson.
Paige VanZant ticks many of the boxes that a promoter would look for in a crossover star and whilst the result of this fight can’t change that too much simply due to ’12 Gauge’s young age, a win here would be a huge step of progress. If VanZant is going to be one of the sport’s biggest stars she will need to make a habit of winning the biggest fights on the biggest nights, and Saturday would be the ideal start.
For more please go to @joehulbert5 on Twitter.