Paige VanZant should’ve become a star weeks ago as far as the UFC is concerned. A year ago, when the biggest mixed martial arts promotion in the world signed the entire strawweight (115 pound division) roster of the all-female Invicta Fighting Championship promotion, the idea was that all of the women would end up on the 20th season of the organization’s signature reality show, The Ultimate Fighter. The winner of the tournament held on the show would become the first ever UFC Women’s Strawweight Champion.
It didn’t quite go according to plan. As Fighters Only Magazine reported, VanZant, Juliana Lima, and Claudia Gadelha all pulled out. Gadelha was concerned about making weight repeatedly while in the house, Lima doesn’t speak English, and Paige VanZant, at 20 years of age, was too young for a reality show house where alcohol flows freely. Instead, they would be the first strawweights to fight on proper UFC cards, fighting top prospects scouted from non-Invicta promotions, while new fighters were cast to fill their spots in the TUF house. These regular fights should determine the first contender to the new champion’s title.
Paige VanZant made her UFC debut this past Saturday night at a UFC Fight Night card in Austin, Texas, defeating Kailin Curran by technical knockout in the second round. It was a wild, fast-paced fight, gaining multiple standing ovations from the crowd. Unlike a lot of crowd favorite fights, it was a very skillful bout where both women showed they were well-versed in all facets of mixed martial arts, repeatedly taking the action to the floor while keeping an incredible pace. In the end, though, VanZant’s pace was too much for Curran. She hit a takedown, Curran was dazed, and the former model pounced with grounded punches for the win. The weight of the win was so much that VanZant broke down and cried as soon as the fight as over.
On most nights, it would be a guaranteed star-making performance, especially being that both fighters went home with $50,000 “Fight of the Night” bonuses, but for whatever reason, the fight was not on the televised portion of the card on Fox Sports 1. Instead, it was one of two fights that night relegated to the UFC Fight Pass digital subscription service. While the flood of web searches for Paige VanZant in the last few days suggest she may well be on her way to superstardom, it’s not the guarantee that a televised fight would have been, especially since The MMA Report is reporting that Saturday’s main card was seen by 903,000 viewers, way up from other cards as of late.