Paige VanZant hasn’t gotten knocked out, bloodied up or broken in either of her two appearances in bare-knuckle fighting, but she also hasn’t been able to earn a win yet either.
After leaving the UFC in free agency and inking a lucrative multi-fight deal with BKFC in 2020, VanZant has come up short in her two appearances for the promotion.
She lost a unanimous decision to Britain Hart in her debut back in February and then fell in similar fashion to fellow UFC veteran Rachael Ostovich in her most recent fight in BKFC.
On both occasions, BKFC president Dave Feldman was impressed by VanZant’s heart and the toughness she displayed over all five rounds to make it to a decision. That said, Feldman acknowledges that ultimately a fighter is judged based on wins and losses and VanZant can sorely afford to go 0-3 in BKFC when she books her next bout.
“Absolutely she’s in a must win-situation,” Feldman told MMA Fighting following BKFC 19. “I thought she was in a must-win situation in this fight but she performed very well. I thought as to the fact that they won Fight of the Night honors. I thought that she was in a must-win coming in. She lost and I still think that we’re in the Paige VanZant business.
“But with that being said, I absolutely think she’s in a must-win [situation]. I can’t keep saying ‘she fought really good, now let’s see what happens next time.’ Eventually and now’s the time, she has to come out with a victory. Like I said, we’ll sit down with her team and see what happens. I think we’re all going to move forward together, but you’re absolutely right, she’s in a must-win situation without a doubt.”
In her debut, VanZant looked overly caution in many of the early exchanges with Hart as she adjusted to throwing and getting hit with bare-knuckles for the first time in her career. Once the fifth and final round got underway, VanZant settled into a rhythm but time ran out before she could potentially pull off the comeback.
For her second fight, VanZant came out with a lot more aggression and confidence in her strikes but she likely didn’t expect to deal with an opponent in Ostovich who showed no fear in the face of her first experience exchanging bare-knuckle punches.
Ostovich was able to consistently land a brutal overhand right that was tagging VanZant all night long and that helped the former Ultimate Fighter contestant earn the unanimous decision victory.
Feldman was impressed by both fighters that night and he gave credit to VanZant for showing improvements despite not getting the victory.
“We definitely saw a new and improved Paige VanZant,” Feldman said. “I mean her punches were crisp, her movement was good. She was a different Paige but you also saw the Rachael Ostovich who said she was going to be. The one that said ‘I’m a tough Hawaiian, we do things different here, we’re tough’ and she did tell me she was scared to death going into that fight. She just didn’t know what to expect but she went out there and she delivered. She gave it her all.
“Great fight for the fans. Everything about the whole thing was fantastic. Those overhand rights she was throwing was really the difference in the outcome of that fight.”
With VanZant now sporting an 0-2 record in BKFC, Feldman knows better than anyone that she has to win in her next fight in order to guarantee her future, but he’s still proud to be her promoter with hopes that they’ll continue working together far into the future.
“She didn’t look bad in either fight,” Feldman said. “She didn’t do enough to win either fight but she didn’t look bad in either fight. She looked improved in the second fight. I don’t think we’re out of the Paige VanZant business, I really don’t. I like Paige. I like that she’s very passionate about what she does.
“We’re going to sit down with her and her team and see what makes sense next. I think you’re going to see Paige back in the squared-circle, I really, really truly do. I think we’re going to come to terms on what we need to do as a team, all of us collectively and what she needs to do to deliver to keep doing this thing. Thing is after this fight she said ‘I’ll be back.’ She doesn’t want to quit. That’s the thing I love about her.”
If there was one issue Feldman had with VanZant after BKFC 19 it was the fact that she left the ring immediately after the decision was announced and then skipped out on the post-fight press conference as well.
Of course, Feldman fully appreciates the passion shown in VanZant’s emotions but he also knows that fighters need to face those losses like everyone else in the promotion.
“I didn’t like that she stormed out of the ring, and didn’t come to the post-fight press conference, but at the same time I liked it for the fact that she did it because she’s so passionate about what she does and I like fighters that don’t take losses good,” Feldman explained. “I don’t want a fighter to take a loss very good. That means that they didn’t have that inside of them. She didn’t take the loss good and I didn’t mind that.
“On the flipside, she needs to do what the company requires. There could have been miscommunication. It doesn’t even matter. What matters is she fought really, really well and we’re going to sit down with her team and see what’s next. That’s what it all comes down to.”