For someone who had only one Octagon appearance under her belt, Paige VanZant entered her UFC on Fox 15 matchup against Felice Herrig with a considerable amount of hype behind her.
VanZant delivered on Saturday at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. as she handed a three-round beating to Herrig en route to a lopsided unanimous decision triumph in a featured strawweight clash. The Team Alpha Male member set a divisional record with 199 total strikes landed in the bout and was awarded a pair of 30-26 scorecards as a result of her dominance.
While VanZant entered the bout as a slight betting favorite, few expected her to dismantle the more-experienced Herrig in the manner that she did.
“Of course I wanted to go out there and win a dominant performance. Everyone wants to finish their fight right away. I’m really happy with my performance tonight,” VanZant said at the post-fight press conference. “I still have a lot to work on. I’m very young in this sport. Every single fight I’m gonna change. I’m not technically the best yet, but I’m at the perfect camp for that.”
VanZant claimed to be unaffected by the pressure accompanying her appearance on the main card of a nationally-televised Fox event. It was a significantly more prominent position than her promotional debut, which came on the preliminary stream of a much less hyped UFC Fight Night card last November.
“I try to soak it in every time I get to be in the Octagon. I’m just so blessed,” she said. “When I walk out, I just take in all the fans. That’s something I could have never dreamed would have happened to me. I’m not nervous the night of the fight. I get to soak it all in.”
VanZant is one of only a handful of fighters on the promotion’s roster to receive an individual Reebok sponsorship. Most of the other fighters who have such a deal are either champions like Jon Jones and Ronda Rousey or established contenders like Conor McGregor. The idea of VanZant getting so much so soon was probably a sore spot for many of the UFC’s more tenured athletes, but the 21-year-old does a good job of ignoring any animosity that might accompany her bouts.
That’s why when Herrig attempted to up the intensity of her trash talk in the weeks leading up to the fight, VanZant did her best to take the high road.
“I understand that some competitors have to get in that mindset. Some people have to get in that mindset that you have to hate your opponent,” VanZant said. “I don’t have to do that. It’s like my birthday every time I walk out to the cage. This is what I love to do. I don’t have to hate the person I’m fighting.”
VanZant will have to keep winning if she hopes to get more skeptics in her corner. Having one pretty prominent supporter at the top of the company certainly won’t hurt her cause. At the end of the night, UFC President Dana White reiterated a point he has already made: VanZant has that intangible ingredient common among stars.
“She’s 21 years old. She doesn’t have a lot of experience, but boy, she’s a scrapper,” White said. “She comes in and she fights, taking on a veteran like Felice and doing what she did. She’s got that thing that I always talk about that you can’t teach. Everybody in my dressing room tonight wanted to meet her. We brought her back there, and she’s got that thing.”