Way back in 2015, Joanna Jedrzejczyk had established her rule atop UFC strawweight (115 lb.) division with awe-inspiring displays of violence. Despite the Pole’s fan-friendly style and marketable heel persona, however, the promotion instead focused its efforts on 21-year-old young gun Paige VanZant.
It seemed like a good move at the time; in addition being camera-friendly, she’d gone 3-0 in the Octagon and 6-1 overall as a professional, the sole loss coming to a division standout in Tecia Torres. “12 Gauge’s” efforts were enough to earn her a main event slot opposite Scottish Muay Thai expert Joanne Calderwood, but when “Dr. Kneevil” withdrew, the talented-but-inconsistent Rose Namajunas answered the call.
MMA Mania’s usual analyst, future Global Legion FC champ Andrew Richardson, recused himself due to training alongside VanZant at legendary California gym Team Alpha Male. Instead, I ended up taking a crack at it; for those who correctly surmise that there are better uses of your time than reading a five-year-old article from a hack, the short version is that VanZant was a technical mess who made up for her shortcomings with sheer volume and pressure.
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That stopped working in a hurry. Namajunas took her apart over five rounds to kick off a 2-4 skid that saw VanZant’s subpar wrestling exploited again and again and again. She utterly failed to shore up the many flaws I’d pointed out and only one of her five UFC wins aged well: a 2015 victory over the ever-gritty Felice Herrig. Her other four victims went a combined 5-18 in the Octagon, with one of those wins the result of intraparty conflict.
Now, after a one-sided loss to Amanda Ribas last July, she’s taking her talents to BKFC, where she’ll headline a February 5th PPV against promotional veteran Britain Hart. Her chances at UFC stardom thoroughly dashed, she has a fresh chance to make a name for herself again.
A very slim one.
Boxing has never been the or even a highlight of VanZant’s game. Her best weapons are her knees and elbows in the clinch and her high-volume ground-and-pound, none of which she’ll be allowed to use in BKFC’s capital-letters Squared Circle. At range, she relies heavily on her kicks; when she actually tries to punch, she’s painfully linear, usually leaving herself wide open to counters in her mad rush towards the clinch.
While she’s actually permitted to clinch here, it very much doesn’t work in her favor. Her defense is every bit as porous at point-blank, particularly without the threat of her knees to keep opponents honest. She’s plenty durable. sure, but that’s a small comfort in a sport where any stray punch can peel half the skin off your face.
While Hart isn’t a technical marvel either, she’s committed to the sport and has held her own against some very capable fighters. She’s more than capable of exploiting VanZant’s calcified weaknesses, and VanZant doesn’t have enough craft or firepower to do the same in return.
There are flawed mixed martial artists who truly needed a switch to bare knuckle to shine, like undercard fighter Johnny Bedford. There are skilled mixed martial artists who somehow excel in bare knuckle despite ostensibly sporting a different wheelhouse, like wrestler-turned-slugger Jim Alers. Paige VanZant is neither, and I genuinely hope she realizes this in a hurry.