Following the end of her most recent UFC contract, Paige VanZant was excited to test the open market to see what she was really worth. But at the same time, she was anxious to face the unknown.
VanZant had no regrets about raising concerns over her salary in the UFC but that was also the only promotion she had ever really known since becoming a professional fighter.
It didn’t take long to realize the calculated move to bet big on herself had paid off after inking a lucrative four-fight deal to join the roster at Bare Knuckle Fighting Championships. On top of that, VanZant also recently launched her own fan site where subscribers pay to see exclusive content, including photoshoots and videos that she posts, which has also netted her a healthy income.
All told, VanZant is financially secure — really for the first time in her entire career — and that’s all thanks to testing free agency and deciding to put the UFC behind her.
“I had my whole career was built off the UFC,” VanZant told MMA Fighting. “I was in the UFC for like six years. It was very nerve-wracking. There weren’t a lot of people who left the UFC in the prime of their career. There were a lot of veterans that had left the UFC that were kind of on that tail end, looking for a few more fights.
“For me, I was a free agent at 26 years old. I was really young. It was nerve-wracking to know you’re leaving the powerhouse of combat sports. But now I know it was the best decision I’ve ever made. Since I’ve left, I’ve seen multiple fighters leave the UFC — and it’s not a diss at the UFC necessarily, but I think it’s more an awakening in fighters knowing there’s money out there and we’re going to be compensated for what we’re doing.”
Towards the end of her time with the UFC, VanZant also sought out new management in hopes that better representation would help navigate the stormy waters of free agency in combat sports.
According to VanZant’s husband and current Bellator middleweight contender Austin Vanderford, that was a key element in securing their future.
“Meeting Malki [Kawa] and signing with First Round [Management] was truly … I can’t say it enough how much of a life changer it’s been for us,” Vanderford said. “Before we signed with them, he said, ‘I need you guys to agree that you’re going to follow my lead and you’re going to do what I say and you’re going to trust me,’ and so far it’s hard to even imagine. They’ve just done such a good job.
“He’s been one of the front guys in getting his clients to move on and go to these other organizations and get paid. It’s been worth it.”
While VanZant knew that she wasn’t being paid her true value when leaving the UFC, there was still no telling exactly what she would end up making on the open market.
After receiving her new contract from BKFC, the now 27-year-old fighter began to realize and appreciate what she was worth to a different company.
“I was in the UFC for six years, I’ve been fighting for eight years and it’s finally paying off,” VanZant said. “This year finally paid off to where I’m feeling comfortable with my life.”
Beyond her fight career with BKFC, VanZant also took the plunge to launch her fan site — a subscription based service that is comparable to another popular website called OnlyFans, where content creators can post whatever they want from photos to videos to audio clips, oftentimes adult-oriented — that goes behind a paywall.
At first, VanZant was hesitant to launch her own site. But after realizing the personal control she would maintain over the content, not to mention the financial benefits it would provide her, she decided to take a shot at it.
“There was always this back and forth,” VanZant said about her decision. “There’s two sides of it. I didn’t want to put myself in a position where I would lose business opportunities based on having an exclusive content site, but I feel like I’m already seen as a sex symbol in the sports world. I might as well have the monetization behind it. I wanted to do it on my own terms. So I actually joined Fan Time, it’s a separate company. I’m not with OnlyFans. It’s PaigeFanZant.com and it’s my own website and I have a lot of control over what goes on there. It’s basically me doing exclusive things. I’m proud to say I’m part of it.
“I work hard for my body. I work hard for who I am, and there’s a side of me that’s extremely girly and feminine, and I get to share that on my fan site. Now I think it’s becoming a lot more acceptable. Before, the OnlyFans was seen more for just like porn stars. It was a little bit more X-rated, just the view from the public. Not saying that’s actually what people have on there, but I wanted to do it my own way. I wanted to do it professionally and have my own website and that’s what I’ve done.”
Before she launched her site, VanZant and Vanderford made sure their parents understood what was happening and that this was something that she really wanted to do. VanZant added that Vanderford was supportive of the idea even before she fully made her decision.
“I was kind of the one against it and he pushed me like, ‘screw it go for it, go have fun,’” VanZant said with a laugh.
The ability to call the shots with her own content was a huge part of VanZant launching the site and she’s also happy to show off a different side of herself away from the cage or the ring.
“I’m sharing what I’m comfortable with,” VanZant said. “I’m sharing as much as I want to. It’s my website. It’s my experience. It is for the fans. I’ve had so many people ask me to do something like this, the exclusive content site and it’s a place where I can communicate one-on-one with absolutely every single one of my subscribers, and I can’t do that on Instagram. I have nearly 3 million followers on Instagram and Twitter and Facebook and all these other things.
“With the fan site, it is a smaller group but I’m able to have that one-on-one, real engaging experience with people and that’s what I really like. I’m getting to know people one on one and chat with people and also have some fun and be really cute and sexy, too.”
When it comes to the finances from her fan site, VanZant can’t deny that the benefits have been great so far, especially compared to her lifetime earnings from fighting.
“I will say when I signed with BKFC, the bare-knuckle boxing, I was making more money than I had made in my entire UFC career,” VanZant said. “Now I’m making more money than my entire BKFC contract in like a month. It’s pretty crazy.”
After enduring financial turmoil towards the end of her career with the UFC, VanZant and Vanderford can say they are finally in a good place with the kind of security that will provide them a happy and healthy life long after fighting is finished.
“I don’t have to, when I’m done fighting, get a regular job and have to go back to work,” VanZant said. “I’m not planning for when I retire to go to college or try to figure out what’s next in my life. I’m able to just fight and save money and plan when I want to retire, I can just retire.”