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Paige VanZant: I had to ‘prove to myself that I belonged’ after ‘Dancing With The Stars’ stint

Paige VanZant lost in dominant fashion last December to Rose Namajunas. Then, she stepped away from the Octagon to compete on "Dancing With The Stars."

Over the last few months, many people were questioning VanZant's future in MMA. Would she leave for Hollywood? Is she really good enough to make it in the UFC?

VanZant told Ariel Helwani on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour that she heard all those questions and criticisms. But the true struggle heading into her bout last weekend with Bec Rawlings at UFC on FOX 21 in Vancouver was internal.

"For me, I feel like every fight it's not that I have to prove anybody wrong, it's just that I have to prove myself right," VanZant said. "I had to go in there and prove to myself that I belonged in there and that I'm so much more than just coming off ‘Dancing With The Stars.' It was definitely just pressure I put on myself, especially knowing I was gonna have a lot of people watching coming from ‘Dancing With The Stars.'"

It could not have ended up better for VanZant. She came away with a stylish, made-for-television finish — a jumping switch kick knockout of Rawlings. It's a highlight that will be played over and over, one of the top KOs of 2016 by any fighter, male or female.

"For me, I'm a fighter first," VanZant said. "I just happened to stay on ‘Dancing With The Stars' until the finale. So it pushed back my next fight. But it all worked out."

After the bout, VanZant said she wanted to fight in Sacramento in December. That's still up in the air, though. VanZant said she still has some big projects pending right now outside the Octagon.

"I was really excited after the fight, obviously," she said. "I do have a few fun things in the works right now. Hopefully those things pan out and I get a good timeline for a fight in there."

Whatever happens with that, "12 Gauge" said she'll remain a regular UFC fighter. VanZant is not going anywhere permanently. She just might step away here and there for other mediums.

VanZant, 22, said she finds it funny that people never asked her fellow "Dancing With The Stars" castmate Antonio Brown if he was going to leave the NFL to take on Hollywood, but that's all the questions she has gotten.

"That would have never been thrown out there," VanZant said. "For me, it was everyone was like, ‘Paige is gonna leave for Hollywood, she's never coming back.' That wasn't it at all."

Of course, Brown makes an average of more than $8 million per year with the Pittsburgh Steelers. VanZant will likely not make anywhere close to a million in the UFC this year. Theoretically, she could get paid more in the entertainment realm.

"That could have been the case," VanZant said. "That's definitely true. Hollywood pays very well. But I am a fighter first and there is amazing things happening. Conor McGregor just had an amazing payday. It's about time. I don't see that as an excessive amount of money with what he's doing. That's about right. Hopefully that starts trickling down and everybody starts making money."

VanZant is just echoing what many fighters have been saying since the Fertitta brothers sold the UFC to WME-IMG for $4 billion last month.

"I just think we all deserve it," VanZant said. "We're all professional athletes. We're fighting at a very, very high level. The UFC I would compare to the NFL. It's on kind of that same playing field. Hopefully, eventually we see athletes making a little more money so anyone that's coming into the UFC, making it to the UFC level can actually make a living off of just fighting for the UFC."

VanZant (7-2) is almost there right now. Fortunately for her, she has other things going on as well, including this potential project she can't quite talk about yet. When asked if it was bigger than "Dancing With The Stars," VanZant was sheepish. Maybe in the future.

"But who knows?" she said. "Who knows? I'm just getting started."

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