Whenever Felice Herrig looks back at her fight with Paige VanZant she’s filled with mixed emotions.
On one hand, the loss to VanZant served as the ultimate wake up call for Herrig, who felt like a human punching bag that night last April when she couldn’t move her legs and her entire body felt numb after stepping into the Octagon that night.
Following the fight, Herrig faced a harsh reality that she had been drowning in anxiety in the weeks and days leading up to her bout with VanZant and it was only thanks to the loss that she finally dealt with it.
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“I never really realized it until I fought Paige. I felt it before, but I thought it was something that just happened with nerves and that’s how you’re supposed to feel. But when I fought Paige, I just had this complete adrenaline dump and I didn’t know what happened. I knew something was drastically wrong. I just didn’t know how to fix it,” Herrig told FOX Sports.
“In a strange way, if I wouldn’t have fought the way I did against Paige, I would have never realized what was happening. In a way, I’m grateful because it made me realize something was wrong and it needed to change. If I would have never realized it, I would have just kept going the same way and retired too soon because I thought I sucked or fighting wasn’t for me anymore.”
Following the fight, Herrig documented her long road to recovery in a previous interview with FOX Sports after seeking medical help for the issues she faced including extreme anxiety, depression and long bouts of insomnia.
It wasn’t easy to deal with all the issues she was having, but once Herrig started to realize how much better she felt after facing the problem, it reignited her passion for fighting once again.
For all the work she put in, Herrig knew the ultimate test was going to be booking a fight and stepping back into the Octagon. Outside of her fights, Herrig was a vibrant, active person without much weighing her down.
In the lead up to a fight, however, Herrig would typically find herself mired in stress and anxiety from the day she started training camp until the bout was finally over. Instead of enjoying the process, Herrig was just trying to get it all over with.
With the treatment she received, Herrig made a dramatic shift in her attention and focus ahead of her last fight against Kailin Curran at FOX UFC Fight Night in Chicago this past July. Instead of allowing the fight and all the outside distractions rule her life, Herrig just boiled it all down to one simple thing — get ready to beat her opponent and nothing else.
“This fight all I cared about was the performance,” Herrig said. “This time around, I didn’t care about what I looked like on the scale. I cared about being strong and having energy for my fight. I did not care what I looked like. I didn’t care to do any media. Cutting weight, I was just focused. In the locker room, I was like I’m just going to breathe.
“Usually I would have so much anxiety I just wanted to get it over with. That morning, I told my coach Jeff Curran I wanted to get a workout in to get the nerves out early. Walking out the cage, I was breathing, getting my legs loose and I just stayed focused. I just wanted to out there and perform and relaxed and do what I knew I could do.”
What resulted was the best performance of Herrig’s UFC career as she dominated Curran as soon as the referee started the fight until she wrapped up a rear naked choke less than two minutes into the first round.
Herrig admits that she wasn’t going out to try and finish Curran that quickly but for once in her life, she finally fought to her true potential and that was the winning result.
“It was amazing. I wasn’t going out there looking for the kill or the finish. I was just relaxed and let the fight come to me and I completely did,” Herrig said. “I have confidence that I can finish a lot of girls.
“That’s what’s always been frustrating because big, strong girls come to the gym, girls that are winning all these grappling tournaments and pro boxers and if it’s grappling, I’ll submit them. If it’s sparring, I’ll drop them. It’s because in the gym, I’m more calm and relaxed or I have more time to get the jitters out or there’s not as much pressure. So I knew that I could do that. I just went in there and my main focus was to be calm and not be anxious or have anxiety of seeing red in there.”
It was a massive switch from the last fight with VanZant where Herrig was absolutely overwhelmed with media commitments not to mention an internal voice that wouldn’t allow her to rest because there was always going to be somebody else to appease.
Whether that was the UFC because Herrig felt like she needed to earn her spot on the roster or the fans, who she felt obligated to entertain as part of her job — she was fighting for everybody else except the one person who mattered most.
“From what I remember, walking for the Paige fight, I was burnt out from all the media. I just remember feeling like I had to cater to all the fans or the people or the UFC or I have to put on a show. I had to look confident. I remember going in the cage and bouncing around and I felt like I had to talk (expletive) or something so you not only have to be a great fighter but you have to have this persona,” Herrig described.
“It’s almost like being you isn’t enough. So everything before the Paige fight wasn’t even about the fight. It was about pleasing everybody so that I could maintain a job with the UFC.”
There’s not a fighter on the UFC roster who wouldn’t want to avenge a loss to a prior opponent, but Herrig’s motivation for wanting a second shot at VanZant goes beyond some kind of personal pride after suffering a defeat.
In fact, Herrig says she actually holds no ill will towards VanZant whatsoever and in a very strange way, she appreciates the way their last fight played out because it forced her to get the help that she needed.
“It’s not personal. I don’t have anything against Paige. Because everything happened the way it happened in that fight, it made me seek out medical attention. It made me fix all the things that needed to be fix. So in turn it made me a better fighter,” Herrig said.
It’s vindication. I want that fight back because to me, that fight didn’t really happen. She didn’t beat me, I was just a punching bag in that fight. I want to make a competitive fight. I want to make it a real fight. I just want it because it wasn’t what I’m capable of.
— Felice Herrig
So Herrig is throwing out an open challenge to VanZant, regardless of the result of her fight this weekend against Bec Rawlings at FOX UFC Fight Night in Vancouver.
Herrig wants another shot at VanZant but not to avenge a loss — she just wants the chance to actually fight her this time.
“The reason why I want that fight again is Paige didn’t beat me. I beat myself. An eight-year girl could have beaten me that night,” Herrig said. “I’m surprised Paige didn’t finish me. I couldn’t move between rounds. I don’t even honestly remember the fight. I just know I was numb and I couldn’t move like it was an out of body experience like I was telling myself to move and I couldn’t move.”
“The frustrating part isn’t the loss — it’s knowing that it wasn’t me in there. I want to show that fight for what it really is. I want that fight to happen again because Paige, I want to fight you at your best, but in return, I want you to fight me at my best. Then we’ll see who is the better fighter.”