As Paige VanZant prepares to return to action at UFC 251, she understands in many ways that this is the biggest fight of her life.
There are no titles to win, nor will winning give him a chance to win a championship. Instead, VanZant’s future is at stake as it struggles to end its current UFC contract with plans to test the free agency afterwards.
“I feel like I’m betting on myself here,” VanZant told MMA Fighting. “You don’t know your value until you test it. I want to know how people see my value.
“I feel more than ever, especially with myself hurting myself, that if I want to be a professional fighter, I need it to be worth it. It must be worth it that I break my arm every day and get into the cage and bleed and sacrifice. “
The past two years have been anything but consistent in VanZant’s fighting career after she originally suffered an arm fracture when she started flies against Jessica-Rose Clark in 2018.
She returned with a victory over Rachael Ostovich almost exactly a year later, but persistent problems with her arm have prevented the 26-year-old from competing since then.
It hasn’t helped much that VanZant feels like it is largely underpaid at the UFC, although it takes possession of the signing of its latest contract. Unfortunately, over time, VanZant began to realize how little it earned, especially compared to other professional athletes.
“I have accumulated all the money I have earned at the UFC in six years, and I could have had a regular job with the same salary,” said VanZant. “I am so grateful for all that the UFC has done for me, the platform they have given me. It’s nothing against the UFC. But the contract I signed is what I signed and I know I have to honor it. This is why I am fighting against this last fight and I have never tried to break it early.
“It is important to fight this fight, to 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.”
According to VanZant, the arm injury that continued to hurt his fighting career also started to really hurt his bank account as the UFC stopped covering his medical bills.
“If I have more problems with my arm, they are not covered by the UFC,” said VanZant. “They only cover up to a year after the date of your injury and 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 get another doctor’s opinion for my arm to make sure everything is fine and they tell me that” your insurance is no longer covered because the UFC only covers up to one year after the date of your injury. So I was like oh no, let’s go. Now I have to think about getting health insurance to cover my broken arm that I broke at the UFC. “
Outside of the UFC, VanZant has had success in modeling as well as finalist status during an appearance in Dancing with the Stars. She has also published a book and has expressed interest in continuing the role of actor as well.
Above all, VanZant wants to be a fighter, but at some point it should be worth it to continue pursuing this career.
“It’s fun for me,” said VanZant of the fights. “I love what I do, but it’s worth it for your future, for your career, for your family. To be a woman, I also want to be a mom. There is a timeline on this. My career, yes, I can come back after having children, but there are other factors like I have to earn enough money to be able to take free time and have children.
“There are so many factors and I think it’s important that we get paid for what we bleed and break.”
Of course, VanZant knows she is not alone because other fighters have raised similar issues in recent months.
Jon Jones is still sidelined in the middle of a contractual dispute with the UFC after trying to book a heavyweight fight against Francis Ngannou so that negotiations could become volatile. Jorge Masvidal was in a very public battle with the UFC for his remuneration, although he was able to reach an agreement with the promotion after accepting a short notice opportunity at UFC 251.
VanZant understands that more and more top fighters will have to talk about pay issues for the sport to undergo dramatic changes.
“People just need to be careful, we sacrifice day after day and we think we have to be paid our true value,” said VanZant. “That is just about everything.
“I love the UFC. I love to fight for them. They have given me so many opportunities but I am trying to create a future for myself. I’m not trying to compare myself to another fighter. I’m not saying I deserve more than any other UFC fighter. I think we all deserve more. We all deserve to be paid better. “
As she prepares to face Amanda Ribas this weekend, VanZant hopes that she will be able to prove her worth in the UFC with an impressive victory and continue this momentum in contract negotiations.
“I wanted to fight someone who was really good,” said VanZant. “Someone who was classified. Someone who really mattered when I beat them.
“This is the last fight in my contract with the UFC and I want to be able to go to the UFC and be like” listen, this is how I am good. Yeah you haven’t seen me fight for a while and I break my arm a lot and I’ve always done something else but ultimately I’m a good fighter. I think it’s a fight if I beat Amanda, it will prove it. “