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Dana White: Paige VanZant's rise is 'almost like the Conor McGregor thing'

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Is it too soon for a title shot for Paige VanZant? UFC president Dana White isn't saying. But he knows one thing: she's not going to have any easy fights from here on out.

VanZant defeated Felice Herrig at UFC on FOX 15: Machida vs. Rockhold on Saturday night in Newark. It was hardly a superb technical display, yet VanZant absolutely roughed Herrig up with her superior athleticism, cardio, strength and dexterity.

Herrig came in ranked No. 8 among UFC women's strawweight contenders. With the win, VanZant, the 21-year-old who everyone wants to bag on for not having enough experience, is going to be a top-10 billed talent this week.

"The problem with Paige now is she's young and she's 5-1 now, but she's probably going to be ranked in the low top 10 now," White said in the post-fight press conference. "She's gonna be 9, 10, 8. She's gonna be in that ballpark somewhere. We'll see how we move her. She's definitely in the danger zone now."

What impressed White most was how VanZant dealt with the criticism that maybe things were happening a bit too quickly for her -- a main card on FOX and all -- and overcame them with a huge performance.

"It's almost like the Conor McGregor thing," White said. "The guy bursts out of nowhere, explodes onto the scene and backs it up. And Paige VanZant did tonight, too. She looked unbelievable. And she is. She's one of those people that has that thing."

The one thing not in dispute about VanZant (5-1) is her marketability. Twitter lit up during her bout with Herrig on big FOX. At one point, "Paige" was trending higher on the social media site than the UFC event itself. It seems like she's set to put herself in that one-word name category before long.

"She's got that thing that I always talk about -- that thing you can't teach," White said. "Everybody in my dressing room tonight wanted to meet her. They were like, 'We want to meet Paige VanZant.' She's got that thing man. And she can fight."

Indeed, she can. If people didn't think it before, she left them no choice Saturday. Herrig is one of the most experienced members of the division and nine years VanZant's elder. Yet VanZant, the bubbly, blond former dancer and model, showed she was more than just a pretty face by laying a brutal beating, especially in a third round that two judges ruled a 10-8.

VanZant outlanded Herrig by a wide margin and also just straight outlasted her. VanZant's pace was ridiculous and her workrate was relentless, but somehow she didn't even seem tired by the end. That kind of cardio and mental fortitude was able to cover up some of the technical holes in her game, ones that she absolutely acknowledges exist.

"She's 21 years old," White said. "She doesn't have a lot of experience. But boy, she's a scrapper. She comes in and she fights. Taking on a veteran like Felice and doing what she did to Felice tonight ... "

White didn't have to finish his sentence. He knows he has a star on his hands and everyone else at Prudential Center realized it, too. Reebok took the risk by signing her up to an endorsement deal quickly. So far, so good.

But VanZant is quick to remind everyone she just reached legal drinking age and has a long way to go.

"Of course I'm gonna take any fight that's offered to me," VanZant said. "But with all the strawweights coming up and with the ranking system being so new, I think we will see a little more accurate ranking of who's available in the title shot.

"I have a lot more to prove and we'll go from there."

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