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 are up for grabs and a win won’t get her a shot at a championship either. Instead, VanZant’s future is on the line as she competes to finish out her current UFC contract with plans to test free agency afterwards.
“I feel like I am betting on myself here,” VanZant told MMA Fighting. “You don’t know your value until you test it. I want to know what people see my value as.
“I feel like more than ever, especially with me hurting myself, that if I’m going to be a professional fighter, I need it to be worth it for me. It needs to be worth me breaking my arm everyday and walking into the cage and bleeding and sacrificing.”
The past couple of years have been anything but consistent in VanZant’s fight career after she originally suffered a broken arm in her flyweight debut against Jessica-Rose Clark back in 2018.
She returned with a win over Rachael Ostovich almost exactly one year later but continued problems with her arm have kept the 26-year-old from competing since that time.
It hasn’t helped matters much that VanZant feels like she’s largely been underpaid in the UFC, although she takes ownership for signing her last contract. Unfortunately as time has passed, VanZant began to realize how little she was actually making, especially in comparison to other professional athletes.
“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.”
According to VanZant, the arm injury that has continued to plague her fight career has also started to really hurt her bank account as well because the UFC stopped covering her medical bills.
“If I have any more problems with my arm, they aren’t covered by the UFC,” VanZant explained. “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 opinion 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.”
Outside of the UFC, VanZant has found success in modeling as well as earning runner-up status during an appearance on Dancing with the Stars. She also published a book and she’s shown interest in potentially pursuing acting as well.
First and foremost, VanZant wants to be a fighter but at some point it has to be worth her while to continue pursuing this career.
“It is fun for me,” VanZant said about fighting. “I do love what I do but it has to be worth it for your future, for your career, for your family. For being a woman, I want to be a mom, too. There’s a timeframe on that. My career, yes I can come back after having kids but there’s other factors like I need make enough money to be able to take time off and have kids.
“There’s so many factors and I think it’s important we’re getting paid what we’re bleeding and breaking for.”
Of course, VanZant knows she’s not alone because other fighters have raised similar issues in recent months.
Jon Jones is still currently sidelined in the midst of a contract dispute with the UFC after he attempted to book a heavyweight fight against Francis Ngannou only to have negotiations turn volatile. Jorge Masvidal was in a very public battle with the UFC over his compensation, although he was able to come to an agreement with the promotion after agreeing to a short notice opportunity at UFC 251.
VanZant understands it’s going to take more and more high profile fighters speaking up about pay issues for the sport to really undergo any dramatic changes.
“People just need to pay attention, we are sacrificing day in and day out and we feel we need to be paid our true value,” VanZant said. “That’s pretty much it.
“I love the UFC. I love fighting for them. They’ve given me so many opportunities but I’m trying to set up a future for myself. I’m not trying to compare myself to any other 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 more.”
As she prepares to face Amanda Ribas this weekend, VanZant hopes that she’ll be able to prove her worth to the UFC with an impressive win and then carry over that momentum into contract negotiations.
“I wanted to fight somebody who was really good,” VanZant said. “Somebody who was ranked. Someone who it really mattered when I beat them.
“This is the last fight on my UFC contract and I want to be able to go to the UFC and be like ‘listen, this is how good I am. Yeah you haven’t seen me fight in a while and I break my arm a lot and I’ve always done always done other things but ultimately I’m a good fighter.’ I think this is a fight if I beat Amanda, it will prove that.”