Paige VanZant signed with the UFC as a teenager, but after nine fights and over six years with the promotion, she knew she was ready to move on.
Back in the pandemic year in 2020, VanZant was booked for a fight at UFC 251, which served as the final bout on her contract. She ultimately lost by submission to Amanda Ribas, but she was still a commodity the UFC wanted to keep on the roster.
After reaching free agency, VanZant received an offer to return to the UFC, and the easy decision would have been to ink the deal to stay in the biggest MMA promotion in the world. Instead, she felt like it was the right time to do something else.
“Me re-signing with the UFC would have been the safe choice, but I just wasn’t happy anymore,” VanZant told MMA Fighting. “It’s not ill will toward the UFC, but I just knew I needed something else. I needed a change. I signed with the UFC when I was 19. I had my first fight when I was 20. I need something different. I need to spark my passion again.
“Looking back, I kind of had my mind made up that I was ready to leave the UFC. So when I became a free agent and they came with their offer to re-sign me, I was already moved on. That part of my life is closed, and I was ready for the next chapter, and I didn’t know what it would be.”
VanZant immediately started fielding offers, but she shocked the world by signing a deal to join the roster at BKFC. At the time, bare-knuckle fighting was only legal in a handful of states, and the sport was still fighting to gain mainstream recognition.
The contract with BKFC wasn’t just about money, though that certainly didn’t hurt. Still, VanZant wanted a different kind of challenge, and bare-knuckle gave her that opportunity.
“Making the transition to BKFC, I’m really happy I did it still,” VanZant said. “I’m so super happy with the decision.
“Me switching to BKFC hasn’t been successful just for wins, I feel accomplished. I went 10 rounds with some really, really tough people, some really tough chicks doing bare-knuckle boxing. Anybody who steps into bare-knuckle boxing needs to get a round of applause. It’s a whole different animal. It’s violent and brutal, and it feels different.”
Her move to BKFC happened simultaneously alongside VanZant launching her own website before eventually joining OnlyFans. That decision paid off huge; she later revealed she made more money in one day from OnlyFans that she did during her entire UFC career.
Not everyone was on board with the move, however.
“I already had it in the back on my mind like I love my body, I love being sexy, it’s a big part of who I am, should I do this?” VanZant stated. “I had prior managers that were like, ‘No, no, no, you have to stay away, you’ll lose all your sponsors and no one will ever want to work with you.’”
VanZant ended up splitting from her former management team and signing with new representation. This time around, she got a much different response when pitching the idea.
“I signed with First Round Management, Malki Kawa, and I brought it up to him, and he said ‘If you’re comfortable with it, hell yes! It’s on you, but if you’re OK with it, you’re going to kill it,’” VanZant said. “He just saw a business mindset that not a lot of other people were able to see.
“I launched it right before my first BKFC fight. I’m in the car on the way from the press conference back to my hotel, and I logged in, and it had only been live for an hour and I was seeing the subscribers going up, and I think I had 52,000 subscribers at one point. I was showing my husband, and I was like, ‘Oh my word!’ That moment driving back [to the hotel], I was of course extremely excited to fight, but I was like our lives just changed forever. I was like, ‘This is OK, this is going to work out. All the risks are worth it. If I never work with another sponsor again, we’re going to be fine.’”
Since launching her OnlyFans page, VanZant has enjoyed the kind of financial freedom that fighting never afforded her. There are absolutely no regrets about the decision she made three years ago, because now, she only has to depend on herself to make money.
“I don’t have sponsors – I don’t have to,” VanZant said. “I’m working on building my own company, promoting myself and not just building up other people. I don’t wake up and have to push an agenda for somebody, or sell something for a company or help them grow. I’m just building me and myself, and sharing things that I’m passionate about, and sharing things that are absolutely true. No one’s paying me to say anything that I say. It all comes straight from the source.”
As far as fighting goes, VanZant previously stated that she absolutely plans to return to BKFC for at least one more fight, but there’s no timeline when that might happen.
Bare-knuckle remains her focus, but despite the UFC in her rearview mirror, VanZant is considering taking another MMA fight in the future. But she’s only interested in working with one promotion.
“I get to do commentary work with the PFL — working with the PFL, the way they treat their athletes, it’s absolutely incredible, and it just opened up my mind and my options so much to where I get to do pretty much anything I want to,” VanZant said.
“If I were to do MMA again, it would definitely be with the PFL. I love the way they treat everybody. Their organization is incredible. I’ve been loving doing commentary work for them and doing behind the scenes, just because I do like being on camera, so I’ve been having fun with that. But I do believe as of right now, just in my mind, if I were going to do MMA it would be with PFL.”
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