After a hiccup suffered in her much-hyped Bare Knuckle Fighting Championships debut in February when she dropped a competitive decision to Britain Hart, former UFC star Paige VanZant believes she has adjusted enough to the learning curve to make a big splash in Friday's return.
VanZant (8-5 in MMA, 0-1 in BKFC) will headline BKFC 19 on pay-per-view from the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa Bay when she faces former UFC foe and bare-knuckle debutant Rachael Ostovich (4-5 in MMA).
"I'm really excited now that I have the experience in bare-knuckle boxing after my first fight," VanZant said during Wednesday's final press conference. "I feel like I really gained momentum in that fifth round that has followed me into this one. Obviously, Rachael and I are common opponents going back to the UFC and now it's a completely different sport. Between the two of us, there are 100 reasons you should tune in and watch this fight."
The 27-year-old VanZant submitted Ostovich in the second round of their January 2019 bout in the UFC, although Ostovich maintains that she got the better of the striking between the two of them in that fight. Yet the recent loss to Hart forced VanZant to change up the way in which she trains in hopes of living up to the financial investment BKFC has made in attempting to present PVZ as the face of the promotion.
After formally training for her bare-knuckle debut at the American Top Team MMA gym in South Florida alongside fellow UFC veteran and current BKFC fighter Thiago Alves, VanZant decided to take on a more boxing centric training camp. She moved to Luna Boxing in Miami under the tutelage of decorated Cuban coach Pedro Diaz, who has formerly guided the likes of Miguel Cotto and Guillermo Rigondeaux to world titles in boxing.
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"That gives me just a sense of confidence to have a coach like that in my corner and a coach who believes in me," VanZant said. "Truly my confidence lies in the training he has prepared me for and I feel like I'm a more complete boxer going into this instead of just an MMA fighter who is boxing."
Hart, who got married to combat sports veteran and current BKFC heavyweight Joey Beltran the morning of Wednesday's press conference, also returns on Friday in the co-main event against Jenny Savage. The brash Hart is likely to face the winner of VanZant-Ostovich should she win and has been very outspoken about being placed on the undercard of PVZ directly after beating her.
Ostovich enters her BKFC debut looking for a fresh start after a 3-4 stint in the UFC, including three straight defeats, saw her get released by the promotion.
"Paige is definitely a great motivation for me," Ostovich said. "We are great foils for each other and I feel like we are going to bring a lot of tenacity and excitement. It's not a rematch because this is a different sport but I still want to prove what I've got. I want to prove to the naysayers that we belong here despite our looks.
"I've always seen [BKFC} and I always thought it was kind of like a taboo thing but when I actually came last month, I was in awe. I used to think that MMA with four-ounce gloves was crazy but this is crazy. This will definitely be one of those things that I cross off my bucket list."
- Paige VanZant vs. Rachel Ostovich, women's featherweights
- Britain Hart vs. Jenny Savage, women's featherweights
- Arnold Adams vs. Mick Terrill, heavyweights
- Date: July 23 | Location: Florida State Fairgrounds -- Tampa, Florida
- Start time: 8 p.m. ET
- TV: PPV ($39.99) | Stream: FITE TV ($39.99)
VanZant isn't wrong in her belief that she closed her BKFC debut against Hart as the fresher and more dominant fighter. While she certainly deserved to have lost the decision, PVZ seemed to figure out both the distance needed and the exact variety of punches to find success in this new venture.
Expect her to use that experience to box circles around Ostovich. VanZant is faster and has looked much more fluid in training videos which have surfaced ahead of the fight.
Pick: VanZant via UD5