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BKFC star Taylor Starling says it would be ‘an honor’ to fight Paige VanZant, but she’s not pursuing that matchup

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Taylor Starling has emerged as one of the Bare Knuckle Boxing Championship’s breakout stars and she’s confident that she can sell fights on the strength of her own name now.

That means we shouldn’t expect her to face off with BKFC poster girl Paige VanZant anytime soon.

While VanZant, a popular fighter who made her name in the UFC, has brought plenty of attention to the growing bare-knuckle boxing promotion, it’s fighters like Starling, Britain Hart, and Christine Ferea who have delivered in the ring. Starling is fresh off of a 28-second knockout of Cassie Robb at BKFC 19 in July, a finish that stole the show on a card headlined by VanZant and fellow former UFC fighter Rachael Ostovich.

In an interview on What the Heck, Starling told MMA Fighting that while she has the greatest respect for VanZant, she sees bigger things ahead than a potential matchup between the two.

“It doesn’t really appeal to me,” Starling said. “It would be an honor. I think Paige is awesome, Paige is so nice, Paige is a badass. I think a lot of people are really kind of knocking her and I think that’s bulls*it. Paige is awesome, but right now we’re just in two different conversations right now, just with what I’m doing in the tournament and champ talk and belt talk and stuff like that. I’m above that.

“I’m not above fighting Paige at all, she’s awesome, and it would be an honor, but like I said we’re in two different conversations right now. She needs to get her confidence back and gain her traction back. That’s what they do. In the UFC, you’re not up in the top and then lose and get to just automatically fight the champ again or get right back up there in that ranking like that, I think it needs to be something where she builds herself back up and hopefully gets right back to it. I hope she still continues to fight for bare-knuckle and I hope she makes her way back that way.”

Starling improved to 2-0 in the BKFC, while VanZant is still searching for her first bare-knuckle victory after dropping decisions to Ostovich and Hart. Should the BKFC introduce a women’s title into the mix, Starling would undoubtedly be one of the names vying for it.

Ferea, Hart, and former UFC fighter Bec Rawlings have also made an impact in their time with the BKFC (Rawlings is 3-0 in the promotion and is set to make her return after a two-fight stint with Bellator) and Starling sees herself as one of these four fighters comprising the BKFC elite with Ostovich as the odd woman out for now.

“I don’t think that Rachael Ostovich will fight bare-knuckle again,” Starling said. “I don’t know, the way she was talking at her press conference, I don’t think she will, but I’m not calling her out, I’m just saying. I definitely believe that I’m up in the talks with the top girls. I believe it’s Christine, Britain, me, and Bec. A lot of people can say what they want, but I’m 2-0, I think I’ve more than proven myself. I’ll do it again if I have to keep doing it, but there’s no reason that I should be fighting anybody debuting anymore. I feel like I can be up in there with them. There’s nobody for me to call out.

“I also understand the fact that Christine, Bec, and Britain have all been in there way longer than I have. They’ve all been there for a really long time, they’ve all got a good amount of fights, but if you were to ask me who were the top people that should be up there and should be in the talks for the belt, I believe that it’s Christine, Britain, Bec, and me. And that’s it.”

Starling is currently targeting October or November for her next fight.

Coming from a varied combat sports background that includes pro bouts in boxing and MMA, Starling is just glad that she finally made her way to the bare-knuckle realm after a coach previously told her not get involved in it. However, it was something Starling always wanted to try and when she saw VanZant signing up for it, Starling knew she was a fighter of the same caliber and that there was no reason not to give it ago.

“I wanted to fight MMA because I wanted to get into a frickin’ brawl,” Starling said. “I wanted to have small gloves on and punch somebody like that, so when I heard about bare-knuckle that’s when I was like, ‘Hmm, I think I need to go to bare-knuckle,’ and my coach at the time absolutely hated the idea. He was like, ‘Absolutely not are you gonna fight bare-knuckle.’ So I kind of put it to the wayside.

“Then when Paige VanZant signed, I was like, ‘Oh, if Paige VanZant can go fight bare-knuckle, I can fight bare-knuckle. And I can beat Paige VanZant,” is how I felt when I saw her signed. I just kind of kept chipping away at it and I couldn’t feel anymore at home than I do at bare-knuckle.”