Paige VanZant from UFC to Bare Knuckle FC, meeting with WWE at the Performance Center, how she stays so positive.

Image credit: MMA Fighting

Ahead of her first Bare Knuckle fight, former UFC fighter Paige Vanzant sat with Chris for an episode of Insight with Chris Van Vliet. They discussed training for the fight, how bare knuckle boxing differs from MMA, and a possible transition into WWE in the future.

CVV: “PVZ in the house!”

Paige: “Yeah how’s it going?”

CVV: “I’m doing great thank you so much for taking the time to do this. You’ve got a lot going on right now so I appreciate you carving out a little bit of time for this.”

Paige: “Yeah for sure, thank you.”

CVV: “You’re getting ready for a big fight. As we speak right now it’s about a week away. How are you feeling?”

Paige: “I feel great. It’s a week out, it’s crazy. Right now it feels like the biggest fight of my career. I feel the pressure on me, the most adrenaline, it feels really good.”

CVV: “A lot of eyeballs on you for this. I don’t know if people at this stage of your career expected you to go into bare knuckle.”

Paige: “No they didnt. I feel like that was part of my appeal to go to bare knuckle because I knew I could make some big waves. I knew I was going to shock a lot of people by signing with them over other organisations, and I definitely feel like I did that.”

CVV: “So what do your days look like right now. I’m imagining that you’ve probably just trained a few hours ago and here we are squeezing this in?”

Paige: “Yes, so days right now. So typically eight weeks out from the fight I’m training 2-3 times a day. When it gets a little closer, and I’m getting my weight down, it’s very specific training. Then, of course, lots of cardio, lots of getting the weight in check and making sure I am staying as safe as possible in training too. I don’t want to get injured before a fight, so super specific training right now.”

CVV: “So you’ve relocated to Florida. Is training in Florida any different?”

Paige: “You know what? That was one of my questions going in. It is very humid here, but it’s also comforting to know that I am training as hard here as I ever have. But now I have the high level coaching, extremely high level coaches in this industry, that have trained champions. Now they are going to be in my corner, they are getting me ready for whatever happens. So it’s a really big confidence booster I would say being at such a high level gym.”

CVV: “How different does training look getting ready for a bare knuckle fight vs getting ready for an MMA fight?”

Paige: “It’s a big difference. I almost like this training better though. Something I have talked to Thiago Alvez with. He also fights for bare knuckle, and he’s one of my teammates and coaches. He has said his body almost feels better just doing boxing, because it’s the grappling and the wrestling part, you can’t feel like you can walk after. You’ll get yourself in certain entanglements, you’ll get stretched out in these crazy positions. Whereas in boxing you’re not doing that. So I feel like I can push my body much harder when it’s just boxing.”

CVV: “Do you remember what the first bare knuckle fight you watched was, and what your reaction was to it?”

Paige: “Yes. So actually the first bare knuckle match that I watched was BKFC. I was curious about Bec Rawlings, one of my old opponents in the UFC going into it, and I watched her fight. I was like, holy cow, this is legit, this is awesome!”

CVV: “And this is going to be you now. Do you have any fears as you go into this fight?”

Paige: “Of course there’s fear you know. There’s general nerves, but it’s the exact same as going into any fight. There isn’t more fear knowing that it’s a bare knuckle match. There’s a sense of relief that taking away the wrestling, which was my downfall in UFC, because my wrestling wasn’t up to par. Whereas now, I don’t necessarily have to worry about that. But I also put the exact amount of pressure on myself that I do with every fight. So the same nerves and same nervous energy.”

CVV: “I imagine most of the training you’re doing and the sparring you’re doing, you’re wearing some sort of gloves right?”

Paige: “Yes, most of the time. So whilst sparring we always wear gloves, but we go bare knuckle for some of the pad sessions. You want to be able to know what it feels like when you hit somebody so it’s not a shock to your hands and a shock to you. So it’s very specific training and I’m super fortunate that I’m at a gym with coaches who have thought these things through for me. I just do what they say and they have kind of prepared the way for me. I’m not the first person from my gym to compete for BKFC, so we have a cool little program going on.”

CVV: ”So if we take this back, who is Paige VanZant before you found fighting?”

Paige: “I was a dancer, my dancing was always competitive. I was still the same athlete with the same drive, it was just in a different sport. So competitive dancing, super driven, that kind of stuff. But before fighting, I don’t know I guess I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, but now I finally feel like I do.”

CVV: “What did you think you were going to be?”

Paige: “I didn’t know, I went to college early, I was super gifted academically, but I didn’t know what to apply that in. I went to college when I was 16. But it didn’t mean anything because I changed my major 4 times. So within that time I went from nursing major, culinary arts, physical education and business. So I was passionate about a lot of things, but I didn’t know what I really wanted to do.”

CVV: “You really ran the gamut of the possible career options.”

Paige: “I did, but looking back at it now, I was in physical education, which is what I do. I did culinary arts, I’ve been on cooking shows. So I’ve been able to touch upon all the different majors that I thought I would go into.”

CVV: “I skipped one grade, so I think we have that in common. I went to college 1 year early. I can’t imagine going 3 years early.”

Paige: “No it was just 2 years for me.”

CVV: “So you are at the same level as people academically, but socially maybe not?”

Paige: “No I was really lucky actually. I went to a community college program. So it wasn’t that kind of environment. I feel like it was a more focused environment, everyone just does their own thing. I don’t know how many people actually knew that I was in high school technically by age.”

CVV: “Hunting was a big part of your time growing up too. What specifically were you hunting for?”

Paige: “You know what, people think it’s hunting, but actually my grandparents were managers of a gun range. So I did most of my shooting at a gun range, not hunting for animals. I was on the shooting team at middle school, it was mostly target hunting.”

CVV: “So what kind of guns were you shooting?”

Paige: “So when I was in middle school they were air rifles, then I pretty much shot everything. When your grandparents manage a gun club, you shoot everything.”

CVV: “But you have been hunting right?”

Paige: “No I haven’t. I don’t know if I could kill anything, I couldn’t take the life of an animal. I’m extremely tough. If it came down to it, if I needed to. I guess I go fishing if that counts. My husband’s family is from Alaska, so they hunt for moose every season, because that’s the meat they eat all year long. That’s what it’s for. Maybe if it came down to that. I like to drive the four wheeler and look cute. I’m such an animal lover, so killing is the hardest part. I’m happy to shoot a target for you though.”

CVV: “I feel like maybe there are some similarities growing up between shooting at a range, with the accuracy and all the things that go into that and what you’re doing now for a living?” 

Paige: “Oh absolutely. Going into shooting it’s a lot more patience, but at the same time you can be a lot more analytical, a lot more thoughtful. In fighting you have to be patient with your shots. It’s a lot more highly paced most of the time, but it’s that patience and technique.”

CVV: “So you mentioned Alaska. I’ve been watching your YouTube channel, called A Kickass love story: with Paige and Austin. But you guys were just in Alaska?”

Paige: “We were. So before COVID, we would go back to Alaska 3 to 4 times a year. That’s like our second home. We think we will have a home in Florida and a home in Alaska, the best of both worlds. We absolutely love it there, and we went there for Thanksgiving.”

CVV: “So which city specifically is he from?”

Paige: “Ok I’m going to see if you can say it, he’s from Ninilchik, it’s technically just a fishing village. He grew up in the middle of nowhere. He doesn’t brag about himself enough, but he was the only person on his high school wrestling team, and then went onto college to become a national champion.”

CVV: “Who do you wrestle when there is no one else to wrestle?”

Paige: “I think his coach. Then they would fly around other villages and wrestle with other teams and stuff like that.”

CVV: “You truly have the best of both worlds. It’s crazy hot in Florida, and the winters in Alaska are crazy.”

Paige: “Yes. So when we left Alaska for Thanksgiving, I think it was like 10 degrees. We show up and it was like 80 degrees in Florida.”

CVV: “So he was on a high school wrestling team. Were you on any teams?”

Paige: “Yes, so in my freshman year I was a cheerleader. Sophomore I ran cross country, and junior and senior year I went to college. So I was only able to play high school sports for 2 years.”

CVV: “So when did the introduction to MMA come in?”

Paige: “So I grew up in Oregon, and we moved to Nevada for my dad’s job. Dad was a huge fan of Ken Shamrock, legend of MMA. So my dad was like there’s this legend, he has this gym here let’s go try it. So my dad did my first class with me, he was my drilling partner, I got to heel hook him and choke him. I was 15 years old and fell in love with fighting. Ken at the time, said if I stick with this I would be good at it.”

CVV: “So Ken was there from day one?”

Paige: “He was there from day one and I had no idea who he was. Now looking back, I’m like, holy cow my coach was a legend of a sport. So Reno, Nevada, this small town had this incredible coach!”

CVV: “So you were just like, who is this incredibly jacked guy?”

Paige: “Yes. He comes in, he’s jacked. I think Ken has this persona for the cameras, but he knew he was a badass. When he walked in, it was his gym and you better listen.”

CVV: “Is there anything early on that Ken taught you that you still apply to your training or fights now?”

Paige: “Absolutely, my heel hooks. I don’t do them as much in fights. I went for a heel hook at the last 10 seconds when I fought Felice Herrig. But there’s positions where you don’t want to put yourself in a bad spot in MMA. But in jujitsu my heel hooks are still really good. It’s the first thing I learned and I’m still passionate about.”

CVV: “Are you still in touch with Ken?”

Paige: “You know what, I did talk to him on the phone not that long ago. He has a son the same age, so we communicate every now and then. But it’s definitely been a while. But we still have a great relationship.”

CVV: “So do you remember the first UFC fight that you ever watched or were ever exposed to?”

Paige: “Yes. I think the first UFC fight I ever paid attention to was Forrest Griffin was the main event. He was my fight idol then and forever. He was the one I looked up to.”

CVV: “So you trained with Shamrock at age 15. How does it go from training to “I want to try my first amateur fight?””

Paige: “It didn’t take long. I couldn’t take an amatuer fight until I was 18. So 18 comes and the gym says they have their own show coming up, do you want to fight? I said sure I will take a fight. I ended up submitting the girl in 40 seconds. Then a month after my 18th birthday, this girl wanted this fight as her pro debut. I took it and got paid $800. My coach said you shouldn’t take it, once you’re a pro, you can’t go back. I needed the money so I flew out there and won my pro debut. That was the moment where I was done with school and I wanted to be a fighter.”

CVV: “How long after that did Dana White and the UFC start calling?”

Paige: “Maybe 3 fights later. Just turned 18, 3 fights later I turned pro, then I was signed to the UFC by the time I was 19. It was really amazing, really fast. I had my first fight with them when I was 20. Now at 26 I guess I’ve had my last fight with them. Now I am a professional bare knuckle boxer.”

CVV: “When you sign with UFC at 19, and you’re a huge fan of MMA, did you think you were going to be in UFC forever?”

Paige: “No, not at all. When I first signed the contract, which was for 4 fights, it was a moment where I was like I might be terrible, I don’t know. It was all happening so fast. I was treating it like I was only going to get one shot. They might hate me, they might cut me, I didn’t know what was going to happen. I treated it as I only had one opportunity to prove to the UFC that I belong.”

CVV: “I’ll never forget the fight where you broke your arm, go back to your corner, and then keep on fighting!”

Paige: “Yeah I talk about that with my husband a lot, because he was in my corner. I have now broken my arm 3 times, and I have separated my shoulder not long ago. In each instance I say I broke my arm, my husband hoes no you would be crying. I’m like no I know my body, my arm is broken. Every time my arm has been broken, he disagrees. My corner did not believe me when I broke my arm during a fight. In the middle of the fight, I could feel the bone clicking as I moved my arm. After the adrenaline wore off, it hurt even more. It’s crazy.”

CVV: “Do you have any fear going into your first bare knuckle fight? There’s a possibility you won’t just break your arm, maybe you will break bones in your hand as well?”

Paige: “You know what, hands don’t hurt as bad as arms. I’ve fought through an entire 5 minutes, 2 and a half bare knuckle rounds, with a broken arm. If I can do that, I know I will be fine if I break a knuckle. I know I can keep fighting. What worries me more are the things that you can’t control. If you get cut open, a doctor stops the fight. That would be very disappointing.”

CVV: “I think a lot of your fans are concerned about you taking punches to your face. After you signed, loads of people were tweeting these pictures of other bare knuckle fighters, what was your reaction to seeing that?”

Paige: “I’ve thought about this. There’s risks in every career you have. My risk is getting my face caved in. I would rather put my life in danger for 10 minutes than live a life that’s not fulfilled, not fun, not enjoyable where I don’t get to live life to the fullest. I would much rather risk 10 minutes than live a boring life.”

CVV: “I think everyone assumed that because of your husband Austin you would be taking a Bellator contract. Was that something that you were looking into?”

Paige: “Yes. Honestly I thought that when I left the UFC I would be signing with Bellator. I thought they would have the best offer, they treat my husband so well. The idea of competing on the same card and organization was really exciting. But then bare knuckle came along. It was like I had the angel and the devil on my shoulder. I had to go where the passion lied. The one that excited me the most was bare knuckle. I wanted to shock the world and show how tough I am.”

CVV: “There’s also an element of this contract where you are doing some commentary too?”

Paige: “Yeah so they opened up the contract where I could commentate. It’s an open ended contract, they are giving me the freedom to do other things if I want to. I’m locked into one aspect, but I can also do other things that will build me and them as brands.”

CVV: “How did you break going into bare knuckle to your husband?”

Paige: “It was not good. It was a hard 2 days where he would be really mad at me. He knew where I wanted to go, he was upset. There were so many layers to it. He was on the Dana White contender series, and had this spectacular finish. We thought he was going to get signed to the UFC and he didn’t. That was when I got so bitter about it. Then Bellator came around. Now he’s extremely supportive of it.”

CVV: “Which one of your previous fights should people put on to showcase what you can do in bare knuckle?”

Paige: “That’s a good one. Of course, performance wise I would say me vs Felice Herrig, me vs Bec Rawlings or me vs Alex Chambers. But I think the fight that proves how tough I am is a fight that I actually lost. It was me vs Rose Namajunas. We went 5 full rounds and it was a war. But I proved how tough I was. I got cut open in the first round, but I fought through every second of that fight.”

CVV: “What did you learn mentally from a loss like that?”

Paige: “I think I learned how tough mentally I was. I knew how tough I was but then the world knew how tough I was. Finally I could prove that you could put me through hell but I’m not going to quit. I think it proved that you are going to have ups and downs in your career, but it’s about going out there and fighting for yourself.”

CVV: “You always hear fighters talking about learning more from losses than you do from victories, is that true?”

Paige: “It’s hard to say. You do in a sense. Not a lot of people reevaluate their performance after a win. When you lose, you really take a step back and reevaluate. You try to figure out why, then you make the changes to make yourself better. When you win, you don’t necessarily make those changes to help growth. Technically, you can learn more from a loss but winning feels so much better.”

CVV: “You’ve got so much going on outside of bare knuckle. Do you remember when you went from a fighter to Instagram influencer and next level?”

Paige: “I don’t really see myself as an Instagram influencer. I just share my life and my love for the world and people enjoy watching it. For me I just feel like a regular person, especially walking into a gym. There are so many people that are way more successful than me. It’s hard to have an ego when you’re surrounded by people like double champion Amanda Nunes, she’s a double champion. When she walked in, me and my husband whispered “There’s the G.O.A.T.””

CVV: “You probably get messages every day from girls who want to do what you are doing?”

Paige: “I do, that’s special. Having people reach out to me that are going through hard times. Trying to inspire the younger, female generation is a lot of the reason why I do it. I fight through all the negativity and all the hardship. I try to not respond to hate in a negative way, It’s about rising through all the negativity and still being strong and true to yourself.”

CVV: “You’re in an occupation where there is a lot of negativity thrown your way. Everyone who watches MMA thinks that they are a fighter, but only a small percentage have actually taken a fight. So you put everything on display. I’m sure if you lose, you get all this backlash from people saying “You should have done this…””

Paige: “Yes. But that’s the hard thing about being in MMA or individual sports. All the eyeballs are on you and you can’t blame a teammate. When a team loses, the whole team loses. When I lose, it’s only me that loses. A lot of people see fighting as good vs evil. They pick their hero and they pick their villain. Somebody comes out on top, but people should see this as two superheroes fighting each other. When I was fighting Rachael Ostovich, someone from the media said you’re the villain in this fight. I was shocked. I have never said a negative thing about anyone that I have fought. So it’s interesting how there’s the good vs evil narrative in fights.

CVV: “How do you stay so positive? Because your smile is so damn infectious.”

Paige: “Thank you. It’s easy to be myself, it makes me feel good. Life is too short to be angry all the time. I could be very angry, especially reading the comments and the articles that are written about me. But if you focus on the good, soak it in. At the end of the day it’s just a job.”

CVV: “Was there one specific comment that made you go “I don’t need to deal with this anymore?””

Paige: “Yeah there are some. There’s always the occasional troll, and I can deal with that. But the people are hating on you, they do it because they have hate in their heart. I had one kid commenting and messaging me saying “you need to go kill yourself.” Finally I added him on Instagram and asked why do you hate me. Now we are friends. He ended up apologizing. A lot of people are just looking for a response. If you respond, it gives them validation. I believe everybody has good in their heart somewhere. If you attack someone you don’t know it has to stem from somewhere. Nobody better than you will put you down”

CVV: “Have any girls had one drink too many at a bar and tried to fight you?”

Paige: “No and I’m very lucky because girls are not like that. But I have been with quite a few of my fight friends and people try to challenge them constantly. No one has tried to challenge Austin yet, but he is good at playing the peacekeeper. He can literally be friends with everybody. He is more down to Earth than me, I get bigger road rage.”

CVV: “What is your biggest pet peeve while on the road?”

Paige: “When you are in the fast lane, and there is a car ahead of you driving below the speed limit.” 

CVV: “Who was Austin when you first met him?”

Paige: “He hasn’t really changed since I met him. I can hear him playing Call of Duty in the background, if I need to tell him to be quiet I can. When we first met he didn’t play video games at all. So his inner nerd has definitely come out. He tried to impress me by hiding the fact that he plays Fantasy Football and Call of Duty constantly. He was in 4 or 5 fantasy leagues this year. First time we met we were at a conditioning gym in Oregon. I was already working out, he showed up right after. He had a down to Earth look to him. He was actually wearing socks with flip flops, which is so uncomfortable. It didn’t take long before we were in love.”

CVV: “So you were the one that pursued him?”

Paige: “I like to say that I was. He doesn’t like to admit it, but it is true. We had a few people at our gym tell him that I was hitting on him. It took a little while.”

CVV: “I do a lot of interviews with wrestlers and your name comes up a lot with WWE. Do you have any interest in doing that?”

Paige: “I do, but I get asked about WWE a lot. I feel like that it’s something I would be good at. I was a dancer, so I would be very good at the entertainer and showmanship side of it. Then the combat sports world goes into the WWE. I couldn’t do both at the same time, so after I’m done fighting, maybe I will go over there. But the door is definitely open. There is definitely a path, and communication is definitely there. Once there is more free time in my schedule, I think there is something I would like to pursue.”

CVV: “So they have reached out to you?”

Paige: “They have. I have visited the Performance Center, because it’s up in Orlando. I was able to look around, and get a sense to what it’s all about.”

CVV: “I’m curious. Someone who is competing at the level you are competing at. Aside from training, your days are pretty set out with routine. What does the first 30 minutes of your day look like?”

Paige: “They are extremely boring. I get on my phone, check my emails, get ready and go to practice. After first practice it’s back to my emails. Eating is included in that. I am very passionate about food and eating.”

CVV: “The fight is a week away. How much weight do you have to cut?”

Paige: “I think I’m 10lbs over, which is perfect. It’s right where I want to be, it’s not a lot of weight to cut anymore. I want to get my weight to a point where I didn’t want to cut as much. The shots are mainly to the head. A lower water cut would minimise the risk of concussions?”

CVV: “Have you had concussions?”

Paige: “Actually I don’t know. I’ve never been diagnosed with concussion. At some point, maybe I have. One doctor thought I broke my nose before. The only fight injuries I’ve had are getting cut under my eye and broken arms. I’ve been very, very lucky.”

CVV: “Do you ever think about life after fighting?”

Paige: “I’m currently thinking more in the moment. I want to have kids and travel the world. I am fortunate that my career has taken me all over the world. Kids in 7 to 10 years. That’s all I have planned for the future. The rest is fighting right now.”

CVV: “Will you be vlogging the behind the scenes of your first bare knuckle fight?”

Paige: “I will. I’m going to try and film everything.I can’t guarantee that I will get a video out just before the fight, but it’s too much to edit before the fight. If he films enough, we will have enough for after the fight. It’s a lot to edit. The coolest thing is that I am taking a picture of myself everyday since I’ve started dieting and you can see how my body transforms on the day of weigh-ins. People take videos of themselves losing weight. But you can see the full transformation of my body up until fight night.”

CVV: “So when can we see this video?”

Paige: “I think after weigh-ins. Because that’s the end point of the weight cut. Where you start, how much you lose. People don’t show how much your body changes in fight camp as a professional fighter. We go through a lot in our training. Our body changes a lot in 6 to 8 weeks.”

CVV: “Have you had any interest from Hollywood?”

Paige: “I have. I have had interest here and there. I got interest for movies, but first things first is fighting. It has to coincide with my fight career. So once I put the pressure on my team to do more acting they will get on it, but I really wanted the last 6 months to work on my striking for bare knuckle. They got rid of all the background noise.”

CVV: “Is there anyone in the movie industry that you look up to and think I want to be like that person?”

Paige: “My go to is The Rock. We both have the same pathway of combat sports and working our way up into Hollywood. Be so successful in one career that it launches a new career. I was meant to be on Titan Games, but I broke my arm right before the show.”

CVV: “Will this fight will be in an empty arena.”

Paige: “Actually there will be fans. In Florida, people are crazy, it’s a no mask free for all. As soon as my husband and I got here, we both got COVID very quickly, even though we wear our masks and don’t go anywhere. There will be fans but it won’t be a packed crowd. I hear the fans when I am fighting though. I hear the “oohh” when I get hit hard.”

CVV: “What are 3 things that you are grateful for in your life right now?”

Paige: “My team and my teammates. For life, this new opportunity. So many things to be happy about.”

Full podcast audio can be found below:

Video version can be found below:

Paige can be found on Twitter here and on Instagram here. Paige’s YouTube channel, called A Kickass Love Story: With Paige and Austin can be found here.

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