With the Gilbert Melendez, Bellator MMA and Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) contract saga now complete, (details here) so, too, is The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 20 coaching situation.
"El Nino" will set up shop opposite current UFC Lightweight Champion Anthony Pettis on the upcoming edition of the show, culminating in a bout between the pair for the promotion’s 155-pound strap at a yet undetermined event.
The two coaches will oversee the development of UFC’s newest women’s division, Strawweights, whose contracts were absorbed from Invicta FC in a deal that transpired late last year (details here).
After recently signing a contract with ZUFFA before TUF 20 even started shooting, MMAmania had a chance to speak with Van Zant before making the transition to the pinnacle of mixed martial arts (MMA).
"12 Gauge" relishes the opportunity to compete in UFC, something she has aspired to do since the beginning of her brief career. But, with the added exposure, comes the expectation to produce on a high level, something she is taking in stride.
"Right now, I am training hard for anything that comes and I'll be ready to fight whenever the opportunity is presented to me I am training harder than ever. I have an amazing gym and training partners. Being apart of such a successful and experienced team I get a lot of guidance from them. I know what it takes to be successful and now that I have the opportunity to fight for the UFC I am more passionate than ever."
She refers to the Duane "Bang" Ludwig-led squad from northern California, a team that has seen exorbitant success in recent times thanks to recognizable names such as Chad Mendes, Urijah Faber and T.J. Dillashaw, among others, who are all at -- or near -- the top of their craft.
So how does a 5’4," 115-pound female train with men who are sometimes almost twice her size? This topic has become prominent as of late with the catastrophic injury suffered by Julianna Pena while training with her male counterpart.
"I have always tried to train safe. Getting hurt like Julianna did takes a huge toll on your body and career. I try not to ever train with guys that are three weight classes above me. Training with people any bigger than that doesn't help either of us get any better and it puts me at risk"
That brought up the question about a potential move in the future to the inaugural UFC women’s division of Bantamweight. Would Van Zant consider packing on weight to fight someone like Ronda Rousey?
She didn’t rule it out.
"As of right now there is no reason for me to move into any other weight class. I am most comfortable at Strawweight. I have a long future in this sport so a lot could change later on."
And what about Rousey -- the champion has served as a role model for many females entering the realm of MMA -- this is no different when it comes to Van Zant.
"Ronda [Rousey] has paved the path of women’s MMA by showing how tough and talented women are. She is one of my idols and I hope to make the impact that she has made on this sport."
It is quite possible the young Van Zant can.
The part-time model has her sights set on winning TUF 20 and looks forward to being under the tutelage of fighters the caliber of "El Nino" and "Showtime," telling MMAmania that "TUF 20 is going to be great -- Melendez and Pettis are amazing."
But, who would she like to fight first? The fantasy booker in me leans toward a rematch against Tecia Torres -- the only woman she has been defeated by thus far.
"I have no one that I specifically would like to fight. I do want to continue to move up in the Strawweight rankings, but now that I am signed with UFC I will take who they give me and go from there."
She has the attitude, brawn, supporting cast and drive to make all her dreams a reality. Quite frankly, who doesn’t see UFC getting behind this girl full-bore?
For more on Paige Van Zant visit her website ... and be sure to catch her on FOX Sports 1's TUF 20 later this year.