Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Flyweight up-and-comers Paige VanZant and Jessica-Rose Clark collided last night (Jan. 14, 2017) at UFC Fight Night 124 inside the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Missouri.
It’s been over a year since VanZant stepped into the cage, but the silver lining is that she needed more time in the gym to refine her skills anyway. In a new division, VanZant is also far closer to a title shot than she once was, so a victory could do big things for “12 Gauge.” On the other hand, Clark made her UFC debut just a couple months back, impressing with a short-notice victory over Bec Rawlings. Last night was her first chance to showcase her skills with a full camp behind her, and like VanZant it was an opportunity for Clark to jump into the title mix.
VanZant began the bout with a lot of jumping techniques, and some of them landed decently. Clark landed a couple decent counters before transitioning to a takedown. The two scrambled, but Clark used the threat of a head-and-arm choke to bring her foe back to the mat and establish top position.
To be frank, not all that much happened on the mat. Clark maintained good shoulder pressure and dropped some small shots, but VanZant did not allow her to pass nor was she able to start any scrambles.
It wasn’t pretty, but Clark was able steal the round with her top control.
VanZant continued to land well to start the second, and she gained top position following a trip takedown. However, Clark did a great job of using a heel hook to transition into a double leg takedown, which allowed her to land on top in the half guard once again.
When Clark moved to advance into mount, VanZant bumped and gained top position. Unfortunately for “12 Gauge,” she came up directly into a deep triangle choke. Clark established a good angle and alternated between attacking the choke and an armbar, but VanZant was able to survive into the third round.
It was a good display of heart from VanZant, but she was likely down two rounds with five minutes remaining.
VanZant continued to peck and poke at her opponent with long, often jumping kicks. VanZant’s right hand was potentially injured, as the young fighter was almost entirely throwing kicks, not even attempting many punches. Despite that odd approach, she found some success, as Clark was a bit tired and could not match up to her opponent’s volume. When Clark did throw, she generally landed her punches. However, she was only boxing, which made it easier for VanZant to work her distance kicking game. Clark lost the final round, but ultimately her work in the first 10 minutes was enough to score the decision victory.
This was a really surprising performance from Clark. Last time out, she used slick kickboxing and angles to get the better of her aggressive foe, and most expected a similar approach in this battle. Instead, VanZant did not pressure, leading to Clark to initiate the wrestling exchanges.
Overall, the women seemed to be pretty evenly matched in the wrestling and grappling exchanges. However, Clark was the smarter positional fighter, as she knew how to establish top control and maintain that position. Additionally, Clark had a size advantage, which helps in scrambles.
The only real adjustment Clark needed to make was kick more. VanZant threw all sort of weapons from that range, whereas Clark put herself at a disadvantage by kicking so rarely.
Regardless, this is a big win for Clark, her second in the last few months. She’s very possibly in position for a title shot or at least a title eliminator bout.
As for VanZant, she did show improvement. Her kickboxing still needs some focus on the fundamentals, but on the whole VanZant showed a better understanding of range than in the past.
Realistically, VanZant lost this bout because she spent too much time on her back. Previously, she’s always been able to force a scramble, but bigger opponents are going to make that more difficult. It’s an adjustment that must be made as she learns how to fight at Flyweight, but it doesn’t mean that her move to 125 lbs. is destined to fail.
Last night, Jessica-Rose Clark out-wrestled her opponent to score a decision victory. What’s next for the Aussie?
For complete UFC Fight Night 124: “Stephens vs. Choi” results and play-by-play, click HERE!