During her debut at the Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship earlier this year, former UFC headliner Paige VanZant displayed moments of inexperience that resulted in a frustrating unanimous decision against Britain Hart.
VanZant admitted to being hesitant as she adjusted to the timing of the rounds and tried to find her rhythm after fighting only once in two years before getting to her first bare finger bout. When she finally felt more comfortable, she began to show what a force she can be by firing some heavy shots – and even splitting Hart’s chin in round five.
Before her second BKFC fight, this time against Octagon export colleague and former UFC opponent Rachael Ostovich on July 23 at BKFC 19 in Tampa, FL, VanZant is more confident, comfortable and looking to take her first win in the bare knuckle action. She talked about the changes she’s made since her first fight and how this affects the difference we’ll see in her second fight.
I had a lot of great opportunities and when I left the UFC. Part of me thought that I would fight 100 percent for Bellator. Everyone thought I was going to end up there – that’s where my husband (Austin Vanderford) is and he’s going to be a Bellator Champion soon. Everyone thought we were fighting for the same organization. Then Bare Knuckle came up with an absolutely amazing offer. The idea of making bare knuckle boxes just seemed like a perfect fit. Throughout my UFC career, one of my most prominent factors has been how tough I am.
I felt with my bare ankles it’s for the toughest of hardships. Only the real, brave and dirty fighters can make it there and I really wanted to test myself in it. I feel like when I want to go back to MMA, I always have open doors. At the moment, this seemed too exciting an opportunity to pass up. It was what made me most passionate about where I woke up every day and felt like this is what I want to do with my career now. So far the collaboration has been an excellent organization and I’m really excited and happy about my decision.
Going into bare knuckle boxing made a small physical difference. The rounds are shorter [two-minute rounds], and every lap is a sprint versus a marathon. There are three five-minute rounds in MMA and you really have to have this long cardio over a long period of time, while the rounds are shorter here, but the action is much more intense and aggressive every single second. You have to have this sprint-like cardio. That was one of the adjustments I had to make. From a mental point of view, I had to go into this with the understanding that I could absolutely break my hands or be cut open. I already knew how tough I was from having had the UFC experience, so I knew I was already tough.
EXPERIENCE IS THE BEST TEACHER
Honestly, what I took away from the first fight was just the experience. I think you could see my hesitation in the first three rounds. I was just trying to figure out what the fighting game would be like, how it would feel, and how fast the rounds go by. From the third lap you saw how I made myself really comfortable. I think it took me a while to get my feet wet. One big change that will make all the difference in this next fight is that I know what to expect. I won’t have questions in my head about what’s going to happen or how to do it. I actually have this experience now.
I’ve made a little change and I’m working with Pedro Diaz here in Miami and he’s a pure boxing trainer at Mundo Boxing. I have a feeling that this will be the biggest difference in my fighting game and my punch. People are really going to see a big change from my first fight to this one. After the first fight I found it important to work with a boxing coach and Pedro is a boxing legend and I’m happy to have him in my corner.
Now Pedro has brought the whole program to the point for me. Right now I’m doing pure boxing training. It’s gritty and more cardio-based – I run a lot. I do pretty much anything he says. The workout is absolutely insane, and I think you will be able to see that my body has changed completely. I gave up the actual conditioning training and just went straight to boxing and whatever Pedro was up to me. I feel like my physique has changed so positively that you can see it in combat. My upper body has gotten a lot stronger from using the tools and programs he gave me.
A typical day of training for me depends on whether I’m doing a private session with Pedro or working with the whole team. I wake up around 8 am and usually work out until 11. I drive to the gym for an hour every day, which I like because it helps me prepare for my workout. I usually work out for two hours and that includes all of our boxing, cardio and whatever else he has planned for the day. Every workout is different, but I trust its program. He wrote everything down for me and I never know exactly what we’re going to do. I am going home and have a short time to rest and relax. Then I do my nightly cardio workout and that is more running and doing whatever I can to reduce my weight.
KEEP CONSISTENT IN OTHER AREAS
My diet is about the same. The weight classes in BKFC are the same as the MMA weight classes. I work with a food company here in Miami, that was great. They provide me with the healthy meals for my camp.
I don’t really like to eat before training. So if I eat at all, I’ll eat a banana before training. I will always drink coffee and the only thing I can’t get out of my diet is my creamer. This is usually before training. After training, I have a protein shake for the drive home and have my meal prepared for me when I get home. It’s usually extremely lean protein, vegetables, rice, and some other carbohydrates. My favorite foods are lunch and dinner meals. I love Indian food and I had to cut that out just like Thai food. Looking forward to having really good Indian food after the fight.
I’m recovering a lot now with the new workout. I do a lot of ice baths. We do an ice bath between workouts to try and get my muscles to recover as quickly as possible for the next workout. I get a lot of massages to make sure I’m not as sore on sparring days or as sore from sparring days. I love the sauna and I know it is extremely healthy for you and I know that it will help me prepare for weight loss as it gets closer to being able to sweat and get as much water as possible without losing my real muscle mass. I love it because it is very healing and also helps with pain.
I think you will see a better prepared boxer. I feel like I’m getting more confident and that should be the standout. I come with the experience of having already had a bare knuckle boxing match. I’m fighting an opponent I’ve already beaten in MMA. I submitted it, but now I come to the knockout. It gives me a boost in confidence and I think that’s the most important thing in a fight, along with the mental edge, and I feel like I have this one. I also feel like I will have the strength, the speed, and the boxing advantage.