It wasn't exactly Conor McGregor-esque, but Paige VanZant went into her Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) debut at UFC Fight Night 57 in Nov. 2014 against Kailin Curran with a little bit of hype behind her.
The 20-year old strawweight contender proved she was indeed the real deal, going on to defeat her opponent via third round technical knockout. As a result, "12 Gauge" earned herself a spot on the main card of UFC on FOX 15 on April 18, 2015, in Newark, N.J., against her toughest challenge to date, Felice Herrig.
It's a fighter VanZant labeled as "predictable," seeing as how Herrig has been in the fight game for a while now and is pretty much set in her style. On the flip side, VanZant is still young and fresh in the sport, so she has the added advantage of being able to change things up and isn't married to just one style of fighting.
That includes brushing up her wrestling skills to the point that one day she can be just as good in that area as current division champ, Carla Esparza, who just so happens to be a two-time All American wrestler. Those comments didn't sit too well with Herrig, who told FOX Sports that it seems VanZant may be buying into her own hype or doesn't fully grasp what it takes to become an elite wrestler.
"When I heard Paige called me 'predictable' and a 'stepping stone,' at first I was like, 'What the f--k,' but then I kind of chuckled a bit to myself because she said after she gets through me and makes her way to Carla (Esparza) that her wrestling would be as good as Carla's by then. I realized then that she either is starting to believe her own hype or just doesn't understand what it takes to become elite at something like Carla is at wrestling. I have nothing against Paige, and I'm excited for anyone or anything that brings attention to WMMA and especially the strawweight division, so this is going to be a fun fight."
Deemed too young, VanZant didn't get the chance to compete for the title during The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 20, which saw 16 of the best strawweights -- including Esparza and Herrig -- in the world duke it our for the crown.
And as VanZant counts her blessings for not having to go through the TUF format, Herrig says things wouldn't have bode to well for her anyway had she done so.
"The truth of the matter is, I think Paige is right when she says she is lucky to have been able to bypass being on 'TUF,' because I don't think she would have done very well. Every girl in that house, whether I liked them or not, was the best in the world -- every one of them. I was picked to fight Paige, but I know every girl in the house would have taken this fight in a heartbeat. I'm glad Paige had a great performance in her debut because on April 18 it will only drive home the fact that the best girls in the division were in that house with me."
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