This past weekend may have been the last fight with the UFC for Paige Vanzant. With tears in her eyes, she walked out of the octagon at UFC 251.
Paige’s plan was to ride out the last fight on her current contract and test free agency. After staying sidelined for more than a year and a half Paige’s return to the octagon was emotional.
“I just wanted to live in the moment because I didn’t know what the future held,” VanZant told MMA Fighting in her first interview since UFC 251. “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.
Photo by Jeff Botarri/Zuffa LLC
“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.”
Paige was aware of the skill of her opponent Amanda Ribas but was confident she could win. Amanda got an early takedown and Piage got submitted with an armbar in the first round.
“She had it locked in perfect,” VanZant said. “There was nothing else I could have done. I tried to stack her, I tried to do all the escapes but she had tucked my arm and had my glove behind her. She just did it so perfectly.
“She did it the way a high-level black belt would put a submission on. I got caught and there’s absolutely no excuse.”
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 the loss, UFC President Dana White commented about Paige’s next move.
White said that he liked VanZant, she got “smoked” in her fight and that she should “definitely” test free agency. Vanzant admitted she didn’t hear the exact comments but was disappointed.
“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.”
“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.”
“I feel the narrative has been pushed where I feel like the media almost twists the way that I say things,” VanZant explained. “‘Oh Paige is complaining about pay.’ I just think I want to be paid more. No matter where you work, if you feel you’re undervalued, there should be absolutely no shame in asking for a raise. Especially if you’ve done your time and put your work in. I’ve been in the UFC for six years.
“Transparently, I lost this fight obviously. I made $46,000 this fight. I haven’t fought in 18 months. So I’ve made $46,000 in 18 months being [what] people have said is a UFC star. I just feel like there’s more out there for me. I’ve always said I could do anything I wanted in life. I went to college when I was 16. I’ve done TV work. I’ve auditioned for all kinds of stuff but I want to fight. At the same breath, it has to be worth it. Because I am hurting myself and damaging myself for this sport.”
Bellator President Scott Coker admitted he would like to have a conversation with Paige about potentially doing business together.
“Honestly for me and that’s something I want to go into negotiations, whoever it’s with, I want to know that they want me to be part of their family,” VanZant said. “I want to work for them.
“I want to open a relationship where I can work — whether that’s working the desk or reporting or doing behind-the-scenes work. I have a passion for camera and TV work as well. So I would love if I could more than just fight for a promotion. I ultimately want to be part of the family.”