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During her Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship debut earlier this year, former UFC headliner Paige VanZant showed moments of inexperience, which led to a frustrating unanimous decision loss to Britain Hart.
VanZant admitted to being hesitant as she was adjusting to the timing of the rounds and trying to find her rhythm after having only fought once in two years leading up to her first bare-knuckle fight. When she finally became more comfortable, she began showing what a force she can be, delivering some heavy shots — even splitting Hart’s chin in the fifth round.
Ahead of her second BKFC bout, this time against with fellow Octagon export and former UFC opponent Rachael Ostovich on July 23 at BKFC 19 in Tampa, FL, VanZant is more confident, comfortable, and looking to notch her first victory in the bare-knuckle action. She talked about the changes she’s made since her first fight and how that will translate in the difference we’ll see in her second bout.
I had a lot of great options and when I left the UFC. part of me thought that I would 100 percent be fighting for Bellator. Everyone thought that’s where I would end up — that’s where my husband (Austin Vanderford) is, and he’ll be a Bellator champion soon. Everyone thought we’d fight for the same organization. Then Bare Knuckle came forward with an offer that was completely amazing. The idea of doing bare-knuckle boxing just seemed like the perfect fit for me. During my entire UFC career, one of my standouts was how tough I am.
I felt with bare knuckle, it’s for the toughest of the tough. Only the real, gritty and dirty fighters can make it there and I really wanted to test myself in it. I do feel like if I want to go back to MMA, I’ll always have doors that are open. For right now, this seemed like too exciting of an opportunity for me to pass up. It was the one that got me the most passionate where I woke up every day and felt like it’s what I wanted to do with my career right now. They’ve been an excellent organization to work with so far and I’m really excited and happy with my decision.
There was a little bit of a physical difference in going into bare-knuckle boxing. The rounds are shorter [two-minute rounds], and each round is a sprint versus a marathon. In MMA, there’s three five-minute rounds and you really have to have that long cardio for a longer period of time whereas here, the rounds are shorter, but the action is much more intense and aggressive every single second. You have to have that sprint-like cardio. That’s been one of the adjustments that I’ve had to make. From a mental standpoint, I had to go into this with an understanding of I could absolutely break my hands or get cut open. I already knew how tough I was because of going through the experiences in the UFC, so I was aware that toughness was something I already had.
Honestly, what I took away from the first fight was just the experience. I think in the first three rounds, you could see my hesitation. I was just trying to figure out what the fight game was going to be, what it feels like, and how quickly the rounds go by. From the third round, you saw me really get comfortable. I think it took some time for me to get my feet wet. A big change that will make the difference going into this next fight is I know what to expect. I’m not going to have the questions in my head of what’s going to happen or how does this go. I actually have that experience now.
I’ve made a little bit of a change and I’m working with Pedro Diaz here in Miami and he’s a straight boxing coach at Mundo Boxing. I feel like that’s going to be the biggest difference in my fight game and my striking. People are really going to see a big change from my first fight to this one. After the first fight, I thought it was important to work with a straight boxing coach, and Pedro is a legend in boxing and I’m excited to have him in my corner.
Now Pedro’s got the entire program down for me. I’m now just straight boxing training. It’s more gritty and more heavily cardio based — I do a ton of running. I do pretty much whatever he says. The training is absolutely crazy, and I think you’ll be able to see that my physique has changed completely. I actually dropped doing the actual conditioning and just went straight boxing and whatever else Pedro has me doing. I feel like my physique has changed in such a positive way that you’ll be able to see that in the fight. My upper body has gotten a lot stronger by utilizing the tools and program he’s given me.
A typical day of training for me depends on if I’m doing a private session with Pedro or if I’m working with the entire team. I wake up about 8 a.m. and practice is usually until 11. I have an hour drive to the gym every day, which I like because it gets me prepared for practice. Typically, I’ll train for two hours and that incorporates all boxing training, our cardio and whatever else he has planned for the day. Every workout is different, but I trust his program. He has everything written out for me and I never know exactly what we’re going to do. I’ll drive home and have a short period to rest and recover. Then, I’ll do my evening cardio and that’s more running and doing whatever I can to get my weight down.
My diet is about the same. The weight classes in BKFC are the same as the MMA weight classes. I’m working with a meal company out here in Miami that has been great. They provide me with the healthy meals for my fight camp.
I actually don’t enjoy eating before I work out so if I do eat at all, I’ll have a banana before practice. I’ll always have coffee and the one thing I can’t cut out of my diet is my coffee creamer. That’s usually before practice. After practice, I’ll have a protein shake for the drive home and then I’ll have whatever meal is prepare for me when I get home. It’s typically extremely lean protein, vegetables, rice and some other carb. My favorite foods are meals for lunch and dinners. I love Indian food and I had to cut that out as well as Thai food. I’m excited for after the fight to have some really good Indian food.
I do a ton of recovery now with the new training. I do a lot of ice baths. We’ll do an ice bath in between sessions to try and get my muscles to recover as soon as possible for the next training session. I get a lot of massages to make sure I’m not as sore going into sparring days or not as sore coming out of sparring days. I love the sauna and I know it’s extremely healthy for you, and I know it helps me prepare for the weight cut when it gets closer to the fight, being able to sweat and lose as much water as possible without losing my real muscle mass. I love it because it’s very healing and it helps with the soreness also.
I think you’ll see a more prepared boxer. I feel like I’ll be more confident and that should be the standout. I’m coming in with the experience of having one bare-knuckle boxing match already. I’m fighting an opponent who I’ve already beaten in MMA. I submitted her but now I’m coming for the knockout. It does give me a boost of confidence and I think that’s the most important thing in fighting, along with having the mental edge, and I feel I have that here. I also do feel I’ll have the strength, speed, and boxing advantage as well.