In the middle of her run on the most recent season of "Dancing with the Stars", Paige VanZant couldn’t help but hear the rumors that she was going to ditch a return to the Octagon and instead focus on a new career in Hollywood.
VanZant certainly has the looks and personality that could land her acting and modeling roles, and she has expressed interest in pursuing a career outside of fighting ever since the first day she arrived in the UFC.
Still, VanZant used the reality show as a way to build her brand and reach a new audience that might not tune into a UFC card on Saturday nights. But it was never meant as a way for her to swap careers.
Article continues below ...
In fact, VanZant reacts harshly to the idea that a career in Hollywood would be better suited for her than what she truly loves to do the most and that’s punching people in the face.
"I don’t know. That’s the weirdest thing for me too because I got so many questions on that," VanZant told FOX Sports. "So many people were thinking that I would just move to Hollywood. I didn’t see Antonio Brown all of a sudden having everybody like ‘oh Antonio’s going to quit the NFL to become a professional dancer.’ They never questioned Antonio or Von (Miller).
I don’t know what it is. Maybe it's because I look like I fit into that world better? I don’t know. But I belong in the fight world.
— Paige VanZant
In the final days while "Dancing with the Stars" was still filming, VanZant was cast for a small part in the upcoming "Kickboxer" sequel that is filming in Thailand, and that somehow once again signaled that she was drifting further and further away from another fight.
But when the UFC came calling with an offer to fight Bec Rawlings at FOX UFC Fight Night in Vancouver, VanZant didn’t hesitate for a second and that’s when she truly proved what matters most to her.
"If the opportunity was right, I would have taken the part in the movie, but the dates kept getting changed and it was going to interfere with my fight camp so I told them I needed to pass," VanZant said. "I know where my priorities are and right now my priority is beating Bec and then we’ll go from there."
If there was a benefit to filming the show for the better part of two months, VanZant says it did give her the mental and physical break she needed to realize just how much she loved being a fighter.
The last time she stepped into the Octagon, VanZant got trampled by Rose Namajunas in a lopsided performance that ended with her first loss in the UFC. As much as VanZant wanted to get back into the cage the very next day to wash the bad taste of defeat out of her mouth, she also knew that taking a break and resetting was probably better for her long term career goals.
"It sucks to take a loss and that’s the one thing that’s been in the back of my mind — I never want to go through that again," VanZant said. "I never want to be put in that position again. No fighter, no athlete ever wants to be in a losing bracket.
"I think for me, I just want to get back in there and get in the win column. And after ‘Dancing with the Stars’, I want to prove to people why I’m a fighter first."
VanZant has also learned valuable lessons from watching how outside distractions have curbed other fighters from having success in their chosen craft.
Whether it’s Conor McGregor speaking out against his insanely busy media scheduled that pulled him away from training or witnessing Ronda Rousey suffer a brutal knockout while touting her latest movie roles rather than her upcoming fight, VanZant has learned to keep her eyes on the prize.
Of course one day VanZant would love to see her name up in lights as a star in a major Hollywood feature film or perhaps even a TV show role, but right now that’s just not her priority.
"It can be hard because you want to say yes to absolutely everything because there are great opportunities and you don’t want to pass anything up," VanZant said. "At the same time, you have to find that balance and find your priorities at the time and I think that winds down to the team that I have telling me and using their wisdom on what I need to do and what I need to focus on.
"A lot of that has been Urijah (Faber), he just helps me out with absolutely everything. I ask him before I take any roles or how that could affect my fight camp and he helps me delegate."
Coming back from the loss and the questions surrounding her future, VanZant knows she has something to prove on Saturday night when she faces Rawlings in her return to action.
Maybe it’s as much about personal satisfaction as firing back at the critics who say she would be better suited for a film set than a fight, but VanZant can’t wait to get back into the business she loves the most: Punching people in the face.
"I think the biggest statement is that I’m a fighter and I’m going to go out there and I’m going to fight," VanZant said.
"I’m going to prove why I belong in this sport and why I belong in the cage. For me it’s just that I like to do this. I like doing it. I’m going to do whatever I want to pretty much."