Paige VanZant may never step foot inside of the UFC’s Octagon ever again, but “12 Gauge” doesn’t seem too bothered about that potential reality.
VanZant 26, made her return to the Octagon after an 18-month layoff to challenge rising women’s flyweight contender Amanda Ribas earlier this month at UFC 251. Despite her early efforts to force a grappling exchange with Ribas, VanZant eventually fell victim to an armbar finish just over two minutes into the first round.
Making matters more difficult for VanZant is the fact that she was on the last fight of her UFC contract. The household star had already suggested she was going to test free agency heading into her bout with Ribas, as well as stating that she could make more money outside of UFC if she wanted to.
“I just wanted to live in the moment because I didn’t know what the future held,” VanZant told MMA Fighting. “I didn’t know if that was my last UFC fight with me being on the last fight on my contract. I don’t know if the UFC’s going to re-sign me.
“It’s still up in the air and we’ll see what happens if I end up going to a different promotion that I feel values me a little bit higher. We just don’t know. It was really emotional.”
While VanZant remains one of the most recognizable names in female MMA today she hasn’t been entirely consistent over her past few Octagon appearances. In fact, since her memorable switch-kick knockout over Bec Rawlings back in 2016 VanZant has only managed to produce a 1-3 record inside of the cage. She has battled through some injuries along the way, but “12 Gauge” never seems to cash in when it matters most.
That was on full display this past weekend at UFC 251 when VanZant bet on herself and ended up losing the final fight on her contract.
“This is the exact fight the UFC wanted,” VanZant said. “They kind of do this to people when they’re on the last fight on their contract. They give them, like, the perfect style matchup. I went against somebody, she’s 10-1, I’ve almost had layoffs, calculating like three years I’ve only been able to fight once cause I keep getting injured.
“Obviously, it was the very toughest opponent they could give me for my one returning fight I had left. I didn’t play into what the UFC wanted. Of course, I still had confidence going into it. Amanda was so talented. I’m so excited to see where her career goes.”
Following VanZant’s loss to Ribas at UFC 251, UFC president Dana White stated that he thought Paige got “smoked” and that she should “definitely” test free agency. White has always seemed to have a good relationship with VanZant but those comments suggest he’s ready to turn the page on the young star.
“Honestly, I didn’t actually see specifically the quote or what he said. I try not to pay attention too much,” VanZant said. “It’s unfortunate because I feel like I have a really good relationship with Dana.
“I feel like I thought we were closer friends and he could text me or call me. Something to have a little bit of compassion, something to communicate with me personally but maybe he will. We just don’t know. I’m sure it’s an uncomfortable situation.”
“I’ve never spoken negatively about the UFC,” VanZant reiterated. “I’m not bitter about where I am in my career, bitter about the position that the UFC has put me in whatsoever. I just felt like for myself, I wanted to test free agency and that’s not because I dislike the UFC or dislike Dana or anybody.
“I know the way my career has looked the last few years but I also know the talent that I have fought against. The combined record of the people who have beat me is pretty high. Losing to the people I have lost to, I still consider myself one of the best athletes in the world. I know I’m going to be a champion. I know that I’ll come back and keep fighting for many, many years.”
While VanZant may not be someone who fits into the UFC’s future plans the veteran fighter is someone that will attract interest from almost every other major MMA promotion. Bellator MMA president Scott Coker has already stated that he’s interested in signing “12 Gauge” and we’re only one week removed from her final UFC bout.
“Dana’s comments, what I’m hearing you say, he wants me to test free agency then hopefully they just let me go then,” VanZant said. “If that’s how they feel, then they’ll just let me be free.”
Stick with Mania for more news on VanZant’s next move.