The past year was an interesting one for Paige VanZant, although not necessarily in all the ways she had hoped.
Her last trip to the Octagon was her January 2018 tilt against Jessica-Rose Clark at Fight Night Saint Louis. She lost that fight via unanimous decision but more crucially she lost time. A broken arm suffered in the first round took several surgeries to repair, sidling the flyweight star all the way until Saturday’s Fight Night Brooklyn event, where she’ll face off against Rachael Ostovich.
It hasn’t all been bad, however, quite the contrary. 2018 saw VanZant publish a popular book Rise: Surviving the Fight of My Life, and marry her fiancée, fellow professional fighter Austin Vanderford.
Still, it was clear from our visit with her in New York City that she’s beyond ready to get back to business.
UFC: You knew pretty early on in your last fight that your arm was broken, but you continued the bout—that’s pretty gangster!
PVZ: Yeah. I knew my arm was broken. I told my coaches it was broken. I do have a high pain tolerance, but it did hurt really bad. So you know I figured it's the only opportunity I have to fight. I should really try to win it. So I fought through it.
UFC: And so you get surgery on that arm, and we all think you’re coming back. What happened?
PVZ: So I had to have two surgeries the first one failed. For whatever reason my arm didn't grow back [properly]. So I had a just like crack through my arm for six months. My arm was broken for six months and had no healing. So then they were like, OK, this is technically called a non-union fracture. So I had to go in and have a second surgery and it was much more invasive. The plate runs almost from my elbow to my wrist now to hold my arm in place. And they had to take a bone graft from my hip and place that in my arm to have some like healthy bone for better healing. So yeah it's a lot better now. The second surgery did work. So my arm is better. I got cleared to fight.
UFC: So it feels normal now when you’re training?
PVZ: It does. I can definitely tell the difference now my arm has healed it is better I can hit as hard as I want without any pain or any irritation. It’s almost like my arm is the exact same.
UFC: Even without fighting, you were still really productive. You put out a book and got married, among other things. How was it to be away from MMA for awhile?
PVZ: It was awful. I know a big thing they kind of questioned was maybe I went back too early to fighting, went back to training too quickly. so maybe I just caused like irritation in the bone line or I just caused the cells to not able to attach because I had too much movement. So for the second one, they really put me on lockdown. I wasn't allowed to go running. I wasn't allowed to do so much that I thought I would be able to with just a normal like arm break and a normal surgery. So I was on lockdown for a while. So it was very hard. It was a lot of depression. A lot of eating. But I feel so much better now. The wait was worth it and my patience was worth it because I get to fight here in New York.
UFC: So you’re planning on making up for lost time in 2019?
PVZ: Oh yeah. 2019 I plan to be very busy. Hopefully no injuries happen, but I plan to stay very active and hopefully get at least two or three fights in.
UFC: Your opponent, Rachael Ostovich, had some very public challenges recently, and you were one of the first people to stand up for her.
PVZ: Yeah, you know I'm definitely somebody who likes to speak out and be an advocate. It’s hard for women to speak up sometimes. Obviously it made me feel good to be able to still have a fight on the line; I was really excited to get back in there. But it definitely takes a lot of courage to come back after something significant: emotionally, physically, mentally…dealing with something like that is very hard. But it's even harder because it's put on a platform. It wasn't something she could keep hidden or keep within her family or a close knit circle, you know? It was all over the Internet very quickly. And that's the problem with being on this platform. I'm happy to be an advocate and be a voice for something like that.
UFC: Looking ahead to that matchup, where do you see your advantages and what’s something that she does well?
PVZ: It was brought to my attention you know we are both very tough and that’s something that is going to balance the playing field. We're both very, very tough. And so that factor has been taken out when you have two wrestlers. They tend to go and strike each other. So now it’s finding those areas where I do see that I have an advantage over her and using everything I've learned this last year and changed. I think what's going to shock people is I do feel like I'm going to be a brand new fighter. I've really tried to develop my game in a much more mature manner instead of just going out there and try to brawl.
UFC: If someone is watching you for the first time Saturday, what will be different about the current Paige and last year’s Paige?
PVZ: If you've never seen me fight, I’ve definitely been called tough. I go out there and I swing for the fences. I really try to go out there and beat somebody up and go out for a fight. I think that's it. You'll also see that same tenacity and the same toughness. Hopefully with a lot more targeted technique.
UFC: If you could dictate how the fight plays out, is there a specific way you think you could take advantage?
You know, I do see myself as being very well-rounded. I feel comfortable wherever the fight goes. That's why you know on my [record] I have a decision, a submission win, knockout and TKO. So I have one of everything in my winning roster for the UFC. So it doesn't matter. I'm going to go out there and going to try to finish the fight.
Steve Latrell is a writer and producer for UFC.com. Follow him on Twitter @TheUFSteve