SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — The second-youngest star to emerge on the ultimate fighting scene is a 21-year-old woman who trains in Downtown Sacramento.
Since her debut in 2012, Paige VanZant has only lost twice in the strawweight division.
The five-foot-four, 115-pound fighter doesn’t have the menacing figure that comes to mind when you think about a mixed-martial arts fighter. But we quickly found out there’s a beast inside the girl next door at Ultimate Fitness.
In the octagon, she’s known as 12-gauge.
“Instead of going for submissions like a lot of people would, I really like to punch people,” she said.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship’s new it-girl is an independent spirit with a penchant for rapid-fire strikes, aggressive grappling and the occasional bleeding.
“I grew up hunting and fishing. I was on a shooting team. And when I started fighting, I went pro after one fight and I was like Dad, I need a fight name and he gave me 12-gauge,” she said.
Her killer instinct and model looks have been difficult for some in the community to reconcile. The blonde, bubbly ex-cheerleader knows she’s quite a departure from the typical fighter, but it’s a difference she embraces for more than a competitive edge.
“I want to see more girls get into the sport. It’s great,” she said. “But even more than that, I want to see girls to be confident in who they are and do anything they want to do. Try absolutely anything.”
But she hasn’t always felt that way. As a high-school freshman, she was relentlessly bullied and beat up by other girls.
“I went from being like a 4.5 [GPA] student to not going to school anymore just because I couldn’t handle it anymore,” she said.
She eventually tested out of high school and started attending Truckee Meadows Community College at 16.
So what does she have to say to those bullies?
“I don’t really say a lot. I think I’m just going to let my success do the talking,” she said.
These days she has a lot of people talking. She’s 6-2 and currently ranked seventh in her division. Some have gone as far as to compare her to Ronda Rousey, who is considered the female face of UFC.
“That’s still some big shoes to fill. But I think it’s awesome that people would compare me to her. It’s really great and I want to have the same opportunities that she’s getting,” she said.
Among the early opportunities is training at Ultimate Fitness in Sacramento under local UFC legend Urijah Faber.
“It’s all about instincts now,” he said. “Making sure that she can put in those hours and that repetition. For someone that’s fairly new in the sport, you have to get in those hours and hours of repetition to make sure you’re reacting the correct way when you’re not thinking.” she said.
She’s grateful for his support.
“He’s definitely been one of the most influential people in the fight career. He’s pushed me and I would definitely say I’ve won my few UFC fights because of him,” she said.
She spends six days a week at Faber’s gym where she’s determined to take her crossover appeal to the next level.
“It’s definitely a full-time job but I’m lucky enough to be very passionate about it,” she said.