UFC fighter Paige VanZant says MMA saved her from suicide after sexual assault, bullying

If it weren't for mixed martial arts, Paige VanZant may not have lived to see her own high school graduation.

As told in her new memoir, "Rise: Surviving the Fight of My Life," and in interviews with ABC News and MMA Fighting, the 24-year-old flyweight fighter was saved by the sport after her teenage years were marred by bullying, sexual assault and contemplation of suicide.

"MMA fighting saved my life," she said in an interview with ABC News. "It saved who I was as a person, too."

VanZant made it a point to highlight Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman, another athlete who publicly detailed her encounter with assault, as inspiration in sharing struggles. But she also said her story -- the one told in explicit detail through her book -- was in the works far before the #MeToo movement became something of a social trend. Her story, she explained, began back in high school.

It was at that time VanZant, per her interviews, was the victim of a rape at the hands of fellow students in her Oregon hometown. This, according to MMA Fighting, led to the former model and "Dancing with the Stars" contestant "being mercilessly bullied by her fellow students when rumors spread that she had consensual sex with the boys" -- a recurring issue that even led the UFC fighter to change her last name from Sletten to VanZant when schoolmates started calling her "Paige Slutton."

Mixed martial arts, VanZant said, became a release from the pressures of the bullying, which at one point had her eating lunch in the stalls of her high school bathrooms and considering suicide.

"I didn't see any other way out," she said, per ABC News. "When you're in that position, when you're feeling that much pain, it's not that you want to die. You just don't want to be in pain anymore."

Now, VanZant is hoping her story will inspire others, saying she wants to be "an advocate for anti-bullying."

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