If Paige VanZant never had to deal with a broken arm again, it would be too soon.
It’s been over two years since she first suffered the injury during her flyweight debut against Jessica-Rose Clark. Multiple surgeries followed, and outside of her win against Rachael Ostovich in Jan. 2019, VanZant has consistently been sidelined due to repeated breaks in her forearm.
Thankfully, the “Dancing with the Stars” vet was able to stay healthy in the lead up to a fight against Amanda Ribas at UFC 251. But afterward, she plans to undergo one final surgery on her arm in hopes of staving off further injuries. She’ll have a plate removed from her arm, which she said is the culprit behind her repetitive injuries.
“I think that’s the biggest reason I want to go in and have another surgery to get my plate taken out — every punch I throw hurts,” VanZant told MMA Fighting. “Everything that happens on my arm kind of hurts.
“I have the plate that runs from my wrist to my elbow. It’s something that’s in the back of my mind. I can still train 100 percent, but I can’t hold pads for anybody. I can’t help my teammates as much as I would like.”
Despite the coronavirus quarantine forcing almost every fighter to adjust their training schedules, VanZant was lucky enough to build a gym at home and get in consistent workouts with her husband, Bellator welterweight Austin Vanderford.
When she finally got the call for the fight with Ribas on July 11, VanZant was extremely happy. Not only was she anxious to compete again, but her body — and particularly her arm — were healthy enough to allow her to compete again.
“I am so excited,” VanZant said. “Honestly, I couldn’t be more excited for the way it all worked out. Yeah, I’ve had some really bad luck in fighting career, continuing to break my arm and then finally getting onto the win streak beating Rachael Ostovich and then getting back in there. I was feeling really good.
“It was like it hurt my pride to break my arm in the gym after a win. I had momentum. I was feeling so good. I was training to fight Amanda Ribas, and unfortunately I broke my arm. But the way it worked out, it was so epic and so awesome.”
Ribas typically fights at 115 pounds, but she will be moving up to flyweight for the matchup against VanZant. On the flipside, VanZant has spent almost her entire UFC career in the strawweight division before making the move up to 125 pounds for her past two fights.
While she’s definitely flirted with the idea of moving back down again, VanZant says ahead of UFC 251, she’s really comfortable in her new weight class and it’s likely flyweight will become her permanent home.
“I know the people I’ve beat at strawweight already, like Felice Herrig, beating these people I could potentially be a ranked fighter in that division,” VanZant said. “Even though I haven’t had as many fights at 125 [pounds], I feel that’s where I belong.
“I’ve never missed weight and I never, ever, ever want to. I just feel like at 115, the risk of missing weight and hurting myself is much, much higher. I just don’t believe necessarily being the bigger fighter is the end all, be all, and being athletic and strong matters more. So I feel more confident and comfortable at 125.”
As she also approaches this fight as the final bout on her current UFC contract, VanZant definitely has a lot riding on her performance this weekend.
Ribas will certainly be a tough test after she’s started her UFC career with three straight wins including a victory over highly touted prospect Mackenzie Dern this past October.
There are certainly no easy fights in the UFC, but VanZant wanted an opponent of Ribas’ caliber so it will make an even bigger impact if she’s victorious on Saturday night.
“Beating somebody like Mackenzie Dern, who is just so, so amazing on the ground, someone who has pretty much perfected their craft, that says something,” VanZant said about Ribas. “This last fight she had, she looked absolutely amazing. I was happy to rebook the exact same fight. Her coming off a win. I wanted to fight somebody else coming off a win so this is really good.
“I wanted to be tested against the best. I went 3-0 at first in the UFC until I fought Rose [Namajunas] and having her on the card feels really good, too. I feel like the older veteran going into this card. I’ve learned so much throughout my career. I’m confident and I feel so at peace going into this fight.”