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Paige VanZant hopes UFC on ESPN+ fight with Rachael Ostovich can ‘show how strong women are’

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Paige VanZant
Paige VanZant
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Paige VanZant said she felt like crying last month when she heard about the events unfolding around her scheduled opponent Rachael Ostovich.

Ostovich was allegedly attacked by her husband, fellow fighter Arnold Berdon, and suffered a fractured orbital bone. Berdon was later arrested and is currently facing a second-degree felony assault charge in Honolulu.

At the time, Ostovich thought she would not be able to fight VanZant at the UFC on ESPN+ card Jan. 19 in Brooklyn. A week later, though, after going to the doctor for a follow up, she was cleared to train and Ostovich told the UFC she still wanted to fight. The bout back was on.

VanZant told MMA Fighting that she felt this was a sign of Ostovich’s mental toughness.

“Of course, I don’t know all the details of what happened, I just knew a little bit,” VanZant said. “But I know that when she did come back and say, ‘I want to fight anyway,’ it gave me an alert, like ‘Hey, this girl is really tough.’ So I know I’m fighting somebody that’s very strong and very mentally strong, because she’s gonna go in there and fight after going through some extreme trauma like this. It just tells me that I’ve gotta be ready for the fight and be ready for somebody to come out there and have a lot to fight for.”

This is a huge fight for VanZant. She’s coming off two losses and a year-long layoff from the Octagon due to a broken arm. The Oregon resident actually was just cleared to fight this week by doctors, she said. Now, though, the contest has taken on even deeper meaning.

VanZant, 24, released a book back in April called “Rise: Surviving the Fight of My Life,” where she opened up for the first time publicly about being raped as a teen, the vicious bullying she experienced and a past toxic, physically abusive relationship, among other things. VanZant said when the book was released that she wanted to tell the world about these elements of her past — in her own words — in order to help others who are going through similar issues.

Ostovich, meanwhile, told Hawaii TV station KHON last month she wanted to remain in the fight with VanZant despite everything going on in her personal life to “take a stand against domestic violence.”

“I felt that it was extremely important to me to follow through with it — not only for me, but first for my daughter and other people that might be going through similar situations,” Ostovich said. “I want to take a stand against domestic violence and show others that it’s OK to come out and speak about it and not be quieted.

“I feel like I have to do this. This is something that can’t be taken away from me. I want to use this big, worldwide UFC platform to show people that, don’t let anyone or anything come between you and your dreams and your career.”

VanZant said she would like very much to discuss some very sensitive topics publicly leading into this fight as an advocate.

“Definitely, I would love to,” she said. “I hope that the UFC lets me and I hope the UFC really uses this to make a difference, because I know there has been other drama about the card and having some fighters on it. But I hope they use this moment to show powerful women, whether it just be her or whether it be both of us. To show you can fight through adversity and you can fight through these demons and still be a very successful person.”

The drama VanZant alluded to was the addition of ex-NFL player Greg Hardy to the ESPN+ card. Hardy has a history of domestic violence and a conviction on abuse charges that was later overturned on appeal when the victim did not show up to court.

VanZant said she did want to comment on the Hardy situation. Ostovich has told the UFC that she doesn’t mind Hardy being on the same card.

“Her take on it was, ‘His story isn’t my story. Everybody’s story is different and I believe in second chances. I have no problem fighting on the same card with this guy,’” UFC president Dana White said. “He didn’t do anything to Rachael Ostovich. She was totally cool with it. Having her support was a key factor in making that decision.”

VanZant said when all is said and done, she wouldn’t mind sitting down and talking with Ostovich, who she has met before and likes as a person. In the meantime, they have to fight each other. That does not mean they have to remain silent about things that are important to them, however.

“At the end of the day, we’re gonna go out there and fight each other,” VanZant said. “We’re both trying to win a fight. But afterwards and even throughout the process, we can show how strong women are and use this to stand up for ourselves and stand up for women and women’s rights and everything that goes beyond — domestic violence and sexual abuse. Just use it to speak up. Even not changing anything, but just be a voice. I know we’re not the only ones who have been through it, it’s just ours are highlighted because we are on this platform.”