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Paige VanZant: Door is open to MMA return, but right now ‘I’m 100 percent obsessed’ and focused on bare knuckle boxing

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Paige VanZant has learned to never say never.

Part of that philosophy comes from a lucrative, multi-fight deal to compete in bare-knuckle boxing, which she signed to join the BKFC roster after completing her most recent contract with the UFC.

A few years ago, bare-knuckle competition was essentially outlawed in the United States. BKFC not only managed to work with state legislators to legalize the sport, but the promotion managed to become a real player in the combat sports space in a very short period of time.

Now just days away from BKFC’s KnuckleMania pay-per-view, VanZant is incredibly excited for her debut she knows trading in her gloves for a bare-knuckle fight doesn’t mean she’s done with MMA forever.

“If you’d have asked me two years ago if the door was ever open to bare knuckle boxing, I would have said no,” VanZant told MMA Fighting. “Now in this moment in my life, being only 26, I have to say yeah, the door is still open. Of course, I’m training at one of the best MMA gyms in the entire world. I have amazing teammates and training partners.

“Of course the door is open. It’s hard for me to put that away because I am still so passionate about it. But at this moment in my life, I’m 100 percent just focused on boxing, and who knows. Maybe I’ll go back into MMA, but maybe I’ll just stay in boxing. I am having a lot of fun doing this, but I have a lot time to fight being only 26.”

Days away from competing in bare-knuckle competition for the first time, the former UFC strawweight and flyweight has really enjoyed putting her full attention on boxing these past few months while still dabbling in MMA training on occasion.

“I want to see leave it in a wait and see mode, but I also know in my heart, yeah, I’m 100 percent obsessed and focused on the bare-knuckle boxing,” VanZant said. “I don’t feel accomplished; I don’t feel done with MMA yet. So being only 26 years old, I know that I have a very long future in combat sports, and I don’t necessarily see myself being finished with MMA.

“My story isn’t over yet. I would love to go over and just have an extremely successful amazing run at bare knuckle boxing, and yeah, I probably do see myself in MMA here in the future. I’m going to give it a few years. Maybe I’ll make so much money and be so successful in bare-knuckle boxing that won’t ever happen, but right now I do have that door still open.”

One possibility in terms of crossover appeal is VanZant facing MMA fighters willing to test themselves in BKFC, like she’s doing now.

Ahead of VanZant’s debut, there were rumors swirling that Rachael Ostovich, one of her previous UFC opponents, was potentially in talks to join the BKFC roster. Former BKFC champion Bec Rawlings admitted she would love the chance to face VanZant after previously falling to her in the UFC.

Both of those options could still be available, though VanZant admits her excitement to beat past opponents for a second time isn’t as intriguing as taking out the top fighters that BKFC can throw at her.

“I think any athlete would say their preference lies in fighting people they haven’t already beaten,” VanZant said. “I think it makes sense for me to move onto the next chapter of my life.

“But I also know this is the entertainment industry. I know whatever fight the president Dave Feldman and BKFC, whatever fight they want me to have I’ll say yes to. I’m pretty open at this point. I’m just having so much fun trying something new and I feel like to be the best and to get the belt, I want to have my trajectory forward but that’s also being accommodating to what they want and that time will come.”

Whether MMA athletes crossover to bare-knuckle boxing, or VanZant eventually decides to return to her former sport, she knows it will all come with a blessing from BKFC.

Under the UFC banner where she previously fought, VanZant would have been subject to the same exclusivity clause that keeps any athlete from competing in another sport outside of a random grappling match or something similar.

With BKFC, VanZant has been given the autonomy to explore different avenues for her career, which may eventually include an MMA fight if that’s what she really wants to do.

“That’s part of being in BKFC,” VanZant said. “They give you the leniency to go do what you want to do. It’s exciting. It’s exciting just to know that I have options and to know that they’re giving me the freedom to do what I want to do.

“But right now, all I want to do is bare-knuckle box. That’s where I’m keeping all of my time, energy and effort. As soon as I feel like I want to try doing another MMA fight, I will but right now I just like the boxing.”