A lot of attention is with the growing popularity with UFC and MMA fighting.
The popularity is translated into television and movies as viewing audiences are fixated on this sport.
UFC fighter Paige “12 Guage” VanZant is one of the newest fighters on the UFC scene. In the newly created women’s straw weight division, you won her first fight last November in the third round against Kailin Curran.
She was slated to be on the television show “The Ultimate Fighter,” but was axed since she was underage and alcohol was present on the show. UFC signed her regardless and she picked up a very solid fan base after her victory.
She is currently the second youngest female fighter in the UFC and the third youngest overall at the age of twenty.
UFC invited Latino-Review to have a special conversation with this young female athlete via telephone. She discussed in detail about her start, training and even the announcement of her next UFC fight against Felice Herrig on April 18 in New Jersey.
Read the full interview below.
Latino-Review: Congratulations on your first win a few months ago in the UFC.
Paige VanZant: Thank you very much.
Latino-Review: How did that feel for you?
Paige VanZant: It feels surreal. The first fight in the UFC is an honor itself. And to go out to have a dominating victory is unbelievable. It’s really a dream come true.
Latino-Review: I’ve seen the clips from your fight, especially the clip when you got all emotional after your victory. What was going through your head at that time?
Paige VanZant: A lot of people look [at me] that I’m so young in this and that I haven’t really experienced a lot. I’ve sacrificed so much to make this a career. It just all hit me at once since I’ve worked so hard for. It just came true in a second. My whole life, in that moment, changed. I just felt all those emotions. I just couldn’t hold in those tears at all.
Latino-Review: That one image of your victory instantly put you in the spotlight and garner you some new fans. How are you handling your newfound fame here?
Paige VanZant: I’ve been loving it. I knew I was destined for something great. I’m very motivated in everything I do. I knew I was going to make it. I know what I want and always had that determined personality. I found MMA and I’m so passionate about it. I wouldn’t have chosen any other destiny.
Latino-Review: You always dreamed about fighting in the UFC?
Paige VanZant: I did, but I honest didn’t know what the UFC was several years ago. I didn’t even know what MMA was. All of the sudden, I’ve discovered this whole other world. I fell in love immediately. And just to be a part of the UFC where everyone is just so nice—it’s something that a look towards for. It’s been better than anything I could’ve imagined.
Latino-Review: How did you get your start in the fighting career?
Paige VanZant: I got started when I was fifteen when we moved to Reno, Nevada. My dad was a huge fan of the sport before I knew what MMA was. He was a big, big fan of Ken Shamrock at a local gym in Reno. My dad convinced me to try it one day. I just was falling in love and Ken told me on the potential that I could go far. I guess he was right. I kept it up since then.
Latino-Review: Since then, your entire life had changed then?
Paige VanZant: In the last five years, my life completely done a 180 from being a dancer and cheerleader to be this fighter in a cage.
Latino-Review: You’re so young. How are you handling all this pressure? Being so young, you should be doing stuff with people of your age should be doing.
Paige VanZant: I consider myself as an old soul. I do have a lot of friends. I’ve always a little ahead of my time. I was in college when I was sixteen years old on an academic scholarship. I got into the college life really early. I knew I didn’t want to go around being a regular teenager and it didn’t even sound appealing to me.
When I was ten-years-old, I was dancing twenty-one hours a week and modeling for Nike and Columbia Sportswear. I knew I just wanted to be more than your average middle schooler and high schooler. I’m really lucky that I found a career path so young.
Latino-Review: Do you consider yourself as a really good role model for young women everywhere?
Paige VanZant: I hope that I can be. I would love to be a great role model. I had my hard times and I’ve gone through a lot of the trials that teenage girls go through. I’m still going through those things. I hope I could be a positive role models for girls.
Latino-Review: I understand that you support these ant-bullying efforts. Could you elaborate and tell me what’s going on with that?
Paige VanZant: Yeah, I had a very, very hard high school experience. I wasn’t a huge fan of high school. I was picked on. I had a very terrible freshman year. I was fortunate to make it out of freshman year and not completely give up.
I just hoping that I could be that positive outlook now. I was able to completely turn my life around. I hope that other girls who gone through the same things could find their strength the way that I did.
Latino-Review: Well, yYou obviously won a fight at the UFC. I don’t think anyone is going to bully you now.
Paige VanZant: [Laughter] Definitely. I don’t see it happening now. [Laughter]
Latino-Review: Do you suggest young women should be taking self-defense classes or the training you go through?
Paige VanZant: Yeah, I think that’s positive. I would definitely encourage girls [to train] in MMA. If MMA isn’t for you and you don’t want this, just find something positive in your life. You’ll feel really, really good. It’s about finding your voice again. When I was going through all my hard times—I’ve lost my voice and I completely lost sight on who I was as a person. So I needed some outlet to find or find who I was again—that’s when I got into MMA.
Latino-Review: Tell me about your nickname “12-Guage.” How did you come up with that?
Paige VanZant: I got the name 12-Gauge from my dad. I grew up kind of a tomboy. I grew up hunting and I was son a shooting team. We had potential nicknames that I kind of liked. And we determined that it’s the one. It just fit on who I was.
Latino-Review: So walk me through on your typical day of training nowadays.
Jennifer VanZant: Yeah, every day is different. Throughout my week, I have some days that are really, really hard training and before we go in there we spar. Some of my days are all conditioning. And there are some classes where it’s pure technique. So all we’re doing is technique, technique and technique.
Latino-Review: So all this training involves like eight to ten hours a day? It’s basically your life now?
Jennifer VanZant: It’s pretty much. My life is all training now. Go to the gym. Go home and take a nap. Go to the gym. Then go home and eat. So I’m constantly in and out of the gym.
Latino-Review: One of the things I’ve read was that you were about to be on a show called “The Ultimate Fighter,” but you had to leave since you were underage. How did you feel about that and was it for the better?
Jennifer VanZant: It was bitter sweet. I definitely turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Of course I wanted to be a part of the reality TV show. I would’ve loved to be under the training of those coaches. It would’ve been an awesome experience. Unfortunately, due to my age I couldn’t be on the show. It really all worked out in the end. I’m very happy in the place where I’m in now. I wouldn’t go back and change it. I wouldn’t go back and be in the house. I got a dream come true to be in the UFC without having to go through The Ultimate Fighter.
Latino-Review: That’s pretty awesome. Are you training out of Reno or Sacramento?
Paige VanZant: No, I’m out of Sacramento with Team Alpha Male.
Latino-Review: So you’re training with a lot of men. How’s that going?
Paige VanZant: It’s great. The guys on my team if you some of their personalities are awesome people. They are super fun to work with. The training is a new experience every day. I get a lot of really hard work and fun.
Latino-Review: What are some of your favorite techniques or moves?
Paige VanZant: I consider myself as a very well-rounded fighter. I don’t have [a specialized] background in jiu-jitsu or wrestling like the other females in my division have. I like to take the fight on wherever it can go.
Latino-Review: That’s great. Do you look up to someone in the UFC personally?
Paige VanZant: I look up to all the fighters. There are a lot of very, very positive role models who I could train with such as Urijah Fabor and [T.J.] Dillashaw who just won a belt. There are a lot of guys who I could get a lot of inspiration from. I could see on how they made it and they’re champions now – I could of sort of follow in their footsteps.
Latino-Review: Of course, I have to start talking about the big news that came out this week. You have another scheduled fight. Talk to me about that.
Paige VanZant: Yes, [I’m] very excited that I get to fight Felice Herrig in New Jersey. That’ll be a very fun fight on April 18.
Latino-Review: What do you think of your opponent?
Paige VanZant: I love my opponent honestly. This is going to be a very good fight. Me and her will go out there and put on a war. This fight will definitely push my potential.
Latino-Review: One last question, do you want UFC as your permanent career or do you want to do something else after the UFC?
Paige VanZant: All I have my sights set on is with the UFC. All I’m thinking about right now is my next fight. That is it. Career-wise after the UFC – I’ll have to see on what comes next. I’m very young so I have a lot to think about.
Latino-Review: That is true. Thank you for this conversation, Paige. I want to wish you good luck.
Paige VanZant: Awesome. Thank you so much.
Paige VanZant will be fighting in the women’s straw weight division against Felice Herrig for UFC on April 18 at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.