Tonight on Fox, Paige VanZant makes her return to UFC. It’s her first fight since participating on “Dancing with the Stars” on ABC. It’s also her first fight since losing to Rose Namajunas last December in a fifth round tapout. Tonight’s opponent, Bec Rawlings, is adding some fuel to VanZant’s motivation with some trash-talking, including saying that VanZant is overrated.
“I look at my last few fights and who I fought,” she said on FS1’s “UFC Tonight” this week. “There are a lot of tough fighters in the strawweight division. I’m going to go out and prove that wrong on Saturday night.”
VanZant says she’s taking the trash-talking in stride. “I’ve always said it doesn’t feel personal,” she said. “This is the sport. It’s what I love to do. Other people say they have to hate the person to do it. I just do it because I love it.”
VanZant’s detour on “Dancing with the Stars” made her want to get back into the Octagon even more. “I feel like I’m at home in the Octagon,” she said. “I missed it a lot. I missed fighting and competing against someone. It’s really like nothing else.” What did she miss? “I want to say violence. Being in the gym. Fighters are just different. I fit in with fighters.”
Torch MMA analyst Todd Martin says viewers should make note of the crowd reaction for her. “This is her first fight since ‘Dancing with the Stars’ and her pretty epic loss back in December to Rose Namajunas when she was being built up a lot,” he said on yesterday’s “The Fix with Todd Martin” Torch VIP podcast. “She showed such heart even in losing, that it’ll be interesting how the crowd reacts to her and if they see her as a big deal.”
VanZant is expecting to be more recognized. “The demographic of fans that I got” is a big difference in her fanbase going into tonight, she says. “I have a lot of older fans and a lot more women who are fans now. My grandpa and all his friends. That brought all those people over to the UFC and hopefully they’ll be watching this weekend.”
Martin predicts with confidence a win for VanZant. “Bec Rawlings, I think, is being placed there to make Paige look good,” he said. “She’s a tough fighter, but she’s sloppy in her mechanics and I think Paige also has a big athleticism edge over her. it should be a good night for Paige.”