While UFC veterans like Andrei Arlovski, Anthony Johnson and flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson came out on top, UFC 191 was also a proving ground Paige “12 Gauge” VanZant.
The 21-year-old pulled off an impressive third-round finish in her fight against Alex Chambers. She submitted “Astro Girl” with an armbar – shades of her hero, UFC women’s bantamweight champion “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey.
VanZant, who is a self-professed member of the Armbar Nation, is now 3-0 in octagon and continues to turn heads and impress fans. Some even believe she is ready in line for a title shot. VanZant’s popularity hasn’t gone unoticed from the UFC brass. During a post-fight press conference, UFC President Dana White said VanZant has the attributes of a “rock star.”
“She’s got a great personality, she’s absolutely relentless when she fights; she puts (Demetrious) ‘Mighty Mouse’ (Johnson) type pressure on fighters, and yesterday, she was the most searched fighter on UFC.com. People love her.”
Popularity aside, critics can cite VanZant’s youth and lack of experience as something that could keep her out of title contention. She showed her inexperience in her fight with Felice Herrig. Fans pointed out that VanZant made some mistakes throughout the bout. However they also noted how her strength kept Herrig from capitalizing on those mistakes.
VanZant could make mistakes here or there in a fight against someone like Herrig, but she’ll have to be on top of her game against the likes of current UFC women’s strawweight titleholder Joanna Jedrzejczyk, who is scheduled to defend her championship against Valerie Letourneau. Herrig has a Muay Thai background like Jedrzejczyk, but the Polish Powerhouse has the strength and ability to finish the fight.
But Jedrzejczyk and VanZant are alike in that they are younger prospects that are taking control of the 115-pound division from established veterans like Herrig and Carla Esparza.
That begs the question, if the UFC names VanZant the next No. 1 contender, would be it because of popularity or promotional value over ability? The UFC seems to be going down that route with announcing Rousey vs. Holly Holm and Jedrzejczyk vs. Letourneau.
Of course the UFC hasn’t announced that VanZant would fight for the title anytime soon. While White complimented VanZant’s popularity, he said she needed to put in “hard work and keep her head together.”
VanZant isn’t rushing into a title shot anytime soon. While she takes the stance of “I’ll fight for the belt when the promotion wants me to,” like many fighters do, she also wants to savor and enjoy her time in the UFC.
“It’s just such a blessing to be a part of the UFC. Of course, I’m going to listen to the UFC, whatever they think the next step is for me, I’m going to listen to them.”
Will fans see VanZant face the winner of Jedrzejczyk or Letourneau? Maybe, maybe not. But if VanZant continues to push the pace and continues to put on impressive performances, we’ll see 12 Gauge fight for a world championship in 1-2 years. She could possibly become the youngest fighter to win a UFC title, an accolade currently held by former light heavyweight champion Jon Jones.