Paige VanZant: I have a long way before I can compare myself to Ronda Rousey
“She’s ranked No. 7 and she’s dominating,” UFC President Dana White said after VanZant’s submission of Alex Chambers on Saturday’s UFC 191 pay-per-view main card. “It’s hard to hold somebody back like that.
“When she fights, you see that she’s definitely green and she’s young, but she’s relentless and she’s scrappy and she wins, man.”
VanZant (6-1 MMA, 3-0 UFC) picked up her third straight win in the UFC by battering Chambers (5-3 MMA, 1-2 UFC) before securing an armbar in the third and final round of their fight at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand Garden Arena.
From the second round on, it was clear Chambers was not at the level of VanZant’s previous opponent, Felice Herrig.
Yet VanZant’s performance did not indicate she was anywhere near the skill level of title contenders in other divisions.
“I don’t think a lot of girls in my division are used to having the pace pushed that way, and that’s definitely something I get from my teammates; they always push me every second,” said VanZant of her performance. “So that’s kind of the way I fight.”
Even before VanZant stepped into the octagon on Saturday, however, she was thought to be a star in the making, and her win did nothing to contradict that. Despite just seven pro fights, comparisons to UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, who’s one of the promotion’s biggest and most bankable attractions, follow the 21-year-old.
VanZant said she gushed over Rousey when they recently met at a Reebok photo shoot. She praised the champ’s contributions to the sport, but sidestepped comparing herself to Rousey and dismissed any added pressure from others doing the same.
“It’s as much a compliment for people to even say that,” she said. “But those are definitely huge shoes to fill and I have a long way before I can make that comparison. But I’m thankful that people see that, and I definitely want to follow in her footsteps.
“She’s opened some great doors for women in all athletics and especially the UFC. So I just think of it as a compliment. It’s not pressure added.”
For his part, White thinks of VanZant as someone who’s on the cusp of something big if she can avoid the pitfalls of popularity.
“She has all the attributes of a little rock star,” he said. “She’s got a great personality, she’s absolutely relentless when she fights; she puts (Demetrious) ‘Mighty Mouse’ (Johnson) type pressure on fighters, and yesterday, she was the most searched fighter on UFC.com. People love her.
“All of her sponsors were all sitting cageside with their phones out filming her when she walked out. She’s got it. She’s got to put in the hard work and keep her head together.”
The question now is whether her popularity gives her a quicker title shot against Joanna Jedrzejczyk, her division’s dominant champ. VanZant appears to be vastly less seasoned a fighter than ex-kickboxing champ Jedrzejczyk, and she would be a massive underdog, if not outright dismissed, in the event they fought soon. But she might bring more attention to the bout than any other opponent for Jedrzejczyk.
It’s hard to discount that in today’s UFC. For VanZant, she’s keeping her title aspirations low-key.
“When the title shot is there for me, I’ll definitely be ready for it,” she said. “But I’m not going to rush anything. This is my time in the UFC, this is my career, and I want to enjoy every second of it. It’s just such a blessing to be a part of the UFC. Of course, I’m going to listen to the UFC, whatever they think the next step is for me, I’m going to listen to them.”
(MMAjunkie’s John Morgan contributed to this report on site in Las Vegas.)