Sometimes the backup plan is the best option.
UFC star Paige VanZant and her husband, Dana White’s Contender Series veteran, Austin Vanderford, heard about the announcement of Chael Sonnen’s Submission Underground Paige stepped forward to nominate them both to participate.
“I was one of the instigators who communicated with Chael because initially Austin and I were going to do a tag team event where we did Jiu Jitsu together against another couple, but I went and broke my arm again,” VanZant said.
The recurring arm injury for VanZant slammed the door closed on a SUG 8 couples jiu-jitsu event but seemed to open another door for Vanderford. The 29-year-old welterweight was removed from couples jiu-jitsu and placed in the main event spot where he will take on UFC veteran and grappling legend, Jake Shields. A challenge that both Vanderford and VanZant see the upside in.
“We have some high-level brown belts that roll with him, but the black belts are the only people who even test Austin,” VanZant said. “I think people are going to be shocked at how good his jiu-jitsu is. I know how good he is so when this opportunity came up, I figured this was an amazing matchup and even further show the world that he’s not just Mr. VanZant. He’s definitely somebody people need to watch out for.”
As if the most highly trained partners in the sport aren’t enough to give VanZant the confidence in her husband, it’s other things people don’t know or don’t see that further enforces her confidence. Vanderford boasts a collegiate national championship and an intangible quality VanZant knows all too well.
“I’ve never met an athlete who is as obsessed with training or as obsessed with fighting or the fight game as he is,” VanZant said. “To the point that it’s almost annoying and that’s coming from another fighter.”
The will to win couldn’t be more important in a sport as violent as MMA and the conflicted but supportive VanZant acknowledges, respects and appreciates her husband’s love for MMA. However, she also makes it very clear, the tension is a lot less high on Sunday’s SUG match than his MMA fights.
“There are so many ways I’m looking at this,” VanZant said. “I’m not as scared or nervous for this one. I feel like in jiu-jitsu you’re not getting hit in the head. Usually there’s not a chance of dying in a jiu jitsu match. On the other hand of it, I arguably think this is way more important than his next Bellator fight. I think this is going to put him on the map and prove his skill.”
Either way it’s easy for VanZant to support her husband in his ascending career especially after it was in her career’s roughest patch when they met.
When VanZant burst onto the MMA scene she was in the UFC with a 6-1 record. Despite bringing in a Performance of the Night bonus against Bec Rawlings in her 9th career fight, she found herself in a 1-3 skid and an injury that stunted her motivation. While she was down, her new boyfriend made sure she was down but not out.
“I broke my arm at the beginning of our relationship, and I was going through all of my surgeries and my arm breaks and all the doubts that I had I was almost to a point where I thought I needed to end my career,” VanZant said. “I went through the healing process of breaking my arm three times in a row and going through two surgeries and if I didn’t have him, I may have walked away from fighting. It was him who told me to keep it up and how good I am and that I need to be more strong-minded and stick things through because he believed in me so much more than I believed in myself.”
With all the help in the gym, in the hospital and at home VanZant couldn’t think of anything easier than supporting her husband.
VanZant will be in attendance for SUG 8 despite not being able to perform and aims an MMA return before anything else but guarantees that if she has her way, it will be the last SUG event Vanderford will compete in solo.
“I want to fight first but once my arm heals I want to get back in the cage and do an MMA fight for the UFC and once I’m able to train again and my arm is better and I have a fight lined up, I told him for sure I want to compete with my husband on a tag team,” VanZant said. “I would love to compete with him so we can show everyone how good we are as a husband and wife couple.”
Catch Austin Vanderford as he takes on Jake Shields among other on the stacked card at Submission Underground 8 LIVE Sunday, May 12 at 6 pm ET ONLY on UFC FIGHT PASS!