Paige VanZant says she is keen to prove she is ‘not just a pretty face’ after signing a contract with Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship.
The former UFC star, who last fought on Fight Island as she was beaten by Amanda Ribas, with president Dana White saying she should try her hand at ‘free agency’.
Now the 26-year-old has announced the next step of her career after signing a four-fight deal with BKFC, with her first appearance set for November. She said she was excited to challenge herself – insisting it was ‘not a backwards move’.
‘It was an amazing contract, an amazing opportunity,’ she told ESPN. ‘I also feel like it’s not a move backwards for me.
‘It’s a lateral move to a new opportunity, a new challenge, a brand new sport. I really have sparked a brand new passion for it and especially for striking in general.
VanZant often posts bikini snaps on social media and admits she is wary of a reputation that she is just a ‘pretty face’, but feels taking up the new sport will prove she should be taken seriously and that she is ready to put her body on the line to make a success of herself.
‘And, on top of that, I feel like I still have this stigma in MMA that I’m just a pretty face, and what a way to prove to people that’s not the way I see myself at all.
‘This is a sport where people probably have the highest rate of getting cut open, and having long-term scars is definitely something that I’m not even worried about for me. It’s just the love of competition and I’m really excited to go out there and show off in such an amazing sport.’
She also revealed the news to her 2.7m followers on Instagram, writing: ‘I could not be more excited to finally share this news. Today is day one on my new crazy journey. Thank you so much to @bareknucklefc for bringing me onto the team. LETS MAKE MAGIC!!!!’
VanZant, born Paige Sletton, turned to martial arts after experience of being bullied and quickly rose up the ranks after winning her first amateur fight aged 18.
In 2013 she was signed by the UFC to compete in the flyweight division and she had enjoyed a huge rise in popularity – going on to become a massive hit on social media. In 2016 she appeared on US talent show Dancing With the Stars and reached the final.
She has a career record of eight wins and five losses, and while she might have turned her back on UFC for now, VanZant said she hadn’t ruled out the possibility of making a comeback.
‘I don’t know that I am done with MMA,’ she added. ‘I know momentarily I am. I still have a huge passion for MMA, and I just recently relocated to Florida to train with American Top Team.
‘Right now, my sole focus is boxing, but in a few years I could go back to MMA or I could just be making so much doing this bare knuckle boxing that I don’t do anything else.’