The moment Paige VanZant announced she would be going from MMA to bare knuckle fighting, there were concerns as to whether the 26-year-old could handle the rough fighting conditions. Modeling on the side, VanZant wanted to find a place where women could get more money to do what they love. Now, she has a chance to prove her doubters wrong.
VanZant is set to face off against Britain Hart at BKFC 16: KnuckleMania. In Tampa, the home of the Super Bowl, VanZant is looking to put all her injury woes, losses in MMA, and politics behind her. A veteran of Invicta and the UFC, VanZant has the skills to fight with whoever is in her way.
Can she come out of a BKFC ring unscathed, or at least with a win?
After losing to Amanda Ribas back in July, putting her 1-3 in her last four fights, VanZant decided not to join her husband, Austin Vanderford, in Bellator. She would end up stating that BKFC provides the best opportunities for her, as she decided on her own. Looking to be the face of BKFC in and out of competition, VanZant has the support of President David Feldman.
A former Dancing with the Stars performer, VanZant isn’t trying to send a message to anyone.
“I feel like for me, this wasn’t about proving anything,” VanZant told MMA Fighting. “This is truly just about going out there and having fun. That’s what it was at the beginning of my MMA, beginning of my UFC career. There wasn’t anybody I had to prove wrong. I was just going out there to try this because I didn’t know how long fighting was going to last for me. I was so young and so new to this sport.”
“So here, it’s kind of the same thing. I’m just going to go out there and have fun and I’m doing something that I’m passionate about. I’m doing it because I love it and nothing else matters.”
Over the past few years, VanZant has had surgery after surgery. The repeated work on her arm stemmed from a bout with Jessica Rose-Clark in 2018 in which it was broken mid-fight. Since then she has had to back out of multiple bouts. The striker and submission star will finally get a chance to just utilize striking, and not have to worry about the other aspects of MMA that can trouble her.
VanZant faces a tough first challenge in Hart. At 1-2 in bare knuckle action, Hart is a boxer. She started training and entered the combat sports game late. Having experience against a champion in Bec Rawlings gives Hart the advantage she needs to show she can beat VanZant.
There may be a chance Hart isn’t even being overlooked, due to VanZant’s lack of experience. While BKFC brass may be hoping for a VanZant win, Hart is ready to disappoint.
“I do expect her coming in with a mindset of a lot confidence, being tough and that she can do it,” Hart would also end up telling MMA Fighting. “Then I also see her changing her mind really quickly like, ‘Oh sh*t, why did I do this?’ Which I think a lot of people had those moments in their life. Like oh man, what was I thinking?”
“Honestly my goal is to break her down and basically make her quit the fight. That would be my main goal. I definitely want to end it. I’ll feel it that night and I really feel like I’m prepared for it so no excuses.”
Despite VanZant being a novice, she is not backing down. Outside of her normal Instagram posts, VanZant has shown she is putting in the work. It could all come crashing down for her, so the pressure is on. VanZant may end up using all of that pressure as motivation.
She is certainly not lacking confidence heading into fight night.
It is unknown what to expect as VanZant enters an unorthodox sport. BKFC will look to see if its gamble paid off. There are plenty of MMA stars that have been able to make the transition to bare knuckle fighting, while some have faltered. Can VanZant end up on the positive side of the transition?
If she can impress, win or lose, there is no doubt that 2021 could be the year of Paige VanZant.