Felice Herrig has been a pro MMA fighter since Paige VanZant was 14 years old. Herrig has 15 career fights and also had a decorated kickboxing career.
Does she represent too much, too soon for VanZant? The 20-year-old doesn't believe so. In fact, VanZant always had a feeling she and Herrig would compete against each other sooner or later.
"I always had on the back of my mind that me and Felice would fight, because we're the hot girls in the sport," VanZant said with a laugh on Monday's The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani. "So I kind of got myself ready for that."
VanZant and Herrig are both popular, attractive women. The UFC understands how marketable they are, too. Herrig was a centerpiece of The Ultimate Fighter 20 and VanZant just returned from a media tour in New York, where she did interviews with the likes of mainstream vehicles Good Day New York and Teen Vogue.
Helwani also reported Tuesday that the fight between the two would take place on the main card of UFC on FOX 15: Machida vs. Rockhold on April 18 in Newark, N.J. A main card spot for two fighters with a combined two bouts of experience in the UFC is a rarity. But it's because there is huge interest in both of them.
"I'm loving all of it," VanZant said of all the media coverage. "I'm very thankful that the UFC has been pushing me so much. They've been backing me. They've been helping me get a lot of media attention. I'm very thankful for that. I have a lot of fun with it."
VanZant, a model and dancer, was searched more than 100,000 times on Google after her victory in November over Kailin Curran. That eclipsed the totals of many past UFC headliners. And VanZant 's bout appeared on UFC Fight Pass --not even cable.
"It's not something that I ever thought would happen, so I guess it is a little surprising," VanZant said. "I'm just honored to be a part of the UFC and to be fighting for them. So all the other things that come with that are little bonuses."
VanZant (4-1) was emotional after her first UFC win, a third-round TKO. She left Team Alpha Male last summer due to a spine injury. VanZant could only get treatment and rehabilitation in her hometown of Reno, because she had Nevada state health insurance. The injuries were somewhat serious -- she had a pre-herniated disc and two bulging discs. VanZant was not 100 percent for the fight, though it was pushed back one month for her to recover.
"I've made a lot of sacrifices to make this career and it was just a really rough road leading up to that fight," VanZant said. "I had a lot of changes. It was an entirely new fight camp for me. Just to have the win and get the victory after such a stressful fight camp and making so many sacrifices, it really felt like everything paid off."
The budding star is back at Team Alpha Male now, training with the likes of Urijah Faber, T.J. Dillashaw, Chad Mendes and Joseph Benavidez. VanZant said her back will be fully recovered for the huge fight with Herrig, someone she looks up to as an idol.
"It's an honor," she said. "I looked up to her when I first started the sport. She was someone who I wanted to follow in her footsteps. Now to be on the same level and same playing field as her, it's exciting. I'm really excited about this fight."
Even if it will come with more media responsibilities. VanZant joked that she doesn't mind getting out of her gym clothes once in awhile for TV interviews.
"It's nice because I train every single day and always doing manly things, I guess," she said with a laugh. "It's nice to actually dress up and go on interviews and be a girl for once."
If all of the attention is premature, VanZant isn't showing it.
"I am very comfortable with that," she said. "A lot of people say I'm very young for all of this to be happening. But I've kind of always been ahead of my age. I went to college when I was 16. I've always been a little step ahead of everyone my own age. This is everything I knew I would be doing eventually in my life. I'm happy that it's happening now."