That is most definitely the word to describe how Paige VanZant dealt with Kailin Curran in their Fight of the Night-winning, double UFC debut last November. She swarmed her. And it wasn’t a new strategy, but it’s how “12 Gauge” handles all of her life’s passions - moving forward, attacking it with all she’s got and coming out on top smiling.
“I feel like I’ve done that in all of my fights where I go out there and immediately attack,” VanZant said. “I think that’s because I go out there for a war. I go out there to really fight somebody. Maybe it will happen later in my career that I will feel my opponents out in the first round, but now, I go in there to finish the fight right away.
"I feel very comfortable doing that. I believe I have good enough cardio where I can go out and go 100% right at the beginning of the bout, and I can push it and last all three rounds. I do work my cardio enough to keep it up.”
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The newly minted 21-year-old made her long-awaited first trip inside the Octagon at UFC Fight Night: Edgar vs. Swanson, and the Oregon native did not disappoint in the slightest. Originally, VanZant was deemed too young to compete on The Ultimate Fighter 20, the show which crowned the first UFC women’s strawweight champion, but the extra time was worth it to see her in action.
From the start, VanZant rushed Curran with punches into the fence and was relentless with strikes in the clinch and on the ground until the third round TKO stoppage.
“I like to think I do it on purpose and that there’s some tactfulness to it, but I just like to swarm my opponent and not give them a second to think about what their game plan was going into the fight,” she said. “I really think it throws my opponents off, especially with the Kailin fight.
"It didn’t give her a second to have a game plan because I swarmed her so fast. I won’t do that with all my opponents because with each opponent I’ll change my fighting style just a little. Once I am a little more technical, I will go out and feel out my opponents and pick them apart the way some fighters like TJ Dillashaw do. Maybe when I get more technical, I’ll get less crazy at the beginning of the fight.”
Since the intense, emotional and bonus-winning debut, VanZant has been thrust onto the fast track to superstardom, signing an exclusive Reebok sponsorship and receiving endless attention from the MMA media. Both praise and criticism have been given to the 4-1 pro, whose focus is on pushing herself in the gym to validate the one and to silence the other. As for the latter, VanZant understands where it’s coming from and she uses that “hate” to motivate.
“I don’t think that will ever go away,” VanZant said. “I am young, I just turned 21 and I don’t have a lot of experience, but I have the drive and athleticism to be where I am. I just have to prove that I am where I am for a reason. I do very well under pressure and I have the attitude that the pressure from critics makes me want to perform even better.”
Up next, VanZant is on the main card and set to scrap with Felice “Lil’ Bulldog” Herrig at UFC on FOX: Machida vs. Rockhold. A quarterfinalist on TUF 20, Herrig has been a fixture in the female fight world for over a decade, first as a pro kickboxer and second as a 10-5 pro in MMA.
The 30-year-old product of Team Curran in Illinois won her Octagon debut in December by securing a second round armbar on Lisa Ellis. With her only pro losses by decision, Herrig is a game opponent who is always in the fight from beginning to end.
“I think she’s an awesome opponent,” VanZant said. “Stylistically, we should put on an exciting fight. Felice has awesome Muay Thai. I don’t know what I would say I’m awesome at (laughs). I just think stylistically it is a very good matchup and we’ll see. I’m excited for this fight and I train for the fight to go the distance.
"I have never been finished and while I plan to go to the distance, I always go for a finish. You have to know that there is always the opportunity it will go all 15 minutes. With us both having awesome conditioning, even if it goes the full 15 minutes, it will be exciting to the very end. It has Fight of the Night potential.”
In preparation for Herrig, VanZant is busy training with arguably the best camp in the world for lighter weight fighters: Team Alpha Male.
While she got her start in combat sports in Reno, a former teammate of VanZant’s - Invicta FC’s Veronica Rothenhausler - had made the switch to sunny Sacramento and was flourishing at Urijah Faber’s famed gym, which prompted 12 Gauge to give it a shot. Nowadays, VanZant is a full-time member of the world-class team and is ready to show off the strides she’s made in practice inside the Octagon.
“[Faber] saw I had a lot of drive and he thought I had a lot of potential, so he asked me to be a part of Team Alpha Male,” VanZant said. “Training has been the same since the first day I showed up - everyone has this amazing work ethic. There’s obviously a lot of big names there like TJ, Chad Mendes, Joe Benavidez, Urijah and Lance Palmer, and every day you show up for practice you show up for a war. Practice is very, very intense, but it’s very, very fun. Now, I just have to train my hardest and get the win.”
This Saturday in Newark, New Jersey, two strawweights will collide as the irresistible upstart VanZant takes on the indomitable veteran Herrig.
> Check out the full UFC Fight Night: Machida vs. Rockhold fight card