Paige VanZant entered the UFC as an exciting prospect for a couple of reasons, with her good looks and exciting fighting style making her a promoter's dream for UFC president Dana White and Co. Now, VanZant enters UFC 251 on Saturday on the last fight of her current UFC deal, having battled mixed success and injuries over the past few years and with an uncertain future ahead.
VanZant will battle Amanda Ribas on the main card of the event on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, the kickoff of the UFC's Fight Island events. While VanZant has stated that she considers the fight a chance to "bet on herself," that bet is a longshot with "12-Gauge" a +550 underdog at William Hill Sportsbook.
Win or lose, VanZant's future is very much up in the air. After a 5-3 run to date in the Octagon, the success hasn't exactly matched the hype and the aforementioned injuries have kept her out of the cage, most notably a broken arm suffered in her 2018 clash with Jessica-Rose Clark. The arm has continued to trouble VanZant, but she can no longer receive treatment on the arm through the UFC's medical policy.
"If I have any more problems with my arm, they aren't covered by the UFC," VanZant told MMAFighting. "They only cover up to a year after your injury date and then you have to pay. I don't have my own health insurance, which is awful, but it's expensive.
"A year after my injury, I went to go get another doctor's appointment for my arm to make sure it's all good and they're like, 'your insurance is not covered anymore because the UFC only covers up to a year after your injury date.' So I was like oh no, here we go. Now I have to think about getting health insurance to cover my arm injury that I broke in the UFC."
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The 26-year-old has already established herself as media savvy and multi-talented, winning an episode of "Chopped," finishing second on "Dancing With The Stars" and releasing an autobiography. But fighting has been her constant professional home since 2012, and while she has expressed a desire to continue fighting -- and fighting in the UFC's famed Octagon -- financial compensation has become an issue.
"I've added up all the money I've made in the UFC over six years, and I could have just had a regular job with the same pay," VanZant said. "I'm so thankful for everything the UFC has done for me, the platform they've given me. This is nothing against the UFC. But the contract I signed is what I signed and I know I need to honor it. That's why I'm fighting this last fight out and I was never trying to break it early. It's important to fight this fight out, honor my contract and then say, 'listen, this is my value and this is what I need to be paid to make it worth it.'"
A win over Ribas would certainly elevate VanZant's worth. Ribas is on a four-fight winning streak and is emerging as a potential future title challenger. But a loss could mean VanZant's exit from the world's biggest fighting stage.
There are other options, of course. VanZant could potentially follow the lead of Sage Northcutt and compete for ONE Championship. Or, she could be an attractive option for Bellator. Both promotions would likely be interested in offering up solid money for a fighter with VanZant's marketability, even if she washed out of the UFC with a barely .500 record.
Fighting could, also, simply become a part of her past. With her various successes outside of the cage, there could be future options that don't involve strapping on gloves and getting punched in the face. She has even teased interest in the past in following in Ronda Rousey's footsteps and signing with WWE, saying in 2018 that she is "a big fan of what they do, so it would be great to be a part of."
Ultimately, VanZant may be fighting Saturday for her UFC life, but options are abound for her future -- in and out of the cage.