UFC 251 could mark the final time Paige VanZant enters the octagon, and that’s one of the things that makes her fight with Brazilian prospect Amanda Ribas so important.
Ribas and VanZant originally were scheduled to meet in March for a strawweight contest, but “12 Gauge” had to withdraw after suffering another arm injury. The UFC re-booked the match for July 11 on Abu Dhabi’s “Fight Island” – formally known as Yas Island – at 125 pounds.
This fight is “very, very important, not only because it’s against her, a fight that we had booked already, but also because it’s in a weight class above,” Ribas told MMA Fighting. “I think they really trust me a lot. My weight is good — I was a bit apprehensive, but I’m fine, feeling strong, and I’m happy to be fighting her, because I think I’ll have more eyes watching than if I fought anyone else, so this is very important for my career.”
VanZant beat Rachael Ostovich via first-round submission in her previous UFC appearance in January 2019. After UFC 251, she’ll be a free agent so she can test the market.
In 2014, the popular VanZant started her UFC career as a 3-1 strawweight, but three years later decided to move up to flyweight.
Competing at 125 pounds is something new for Ribas, and she was forced to change a few things in her diet. Training solely in Brazil due to travel restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, she started her camp at 147.7 pounds, a bump from her usual cut from 143 to 115 pounds.
Having fewer pounds to cut allowed Ribas to eat some junk food during training camp— she ended up gaining more weight due to quarantine in her native Varginha, Brazil
“I don’t want that [extra weight] for me life,” she joked.
That doesn’t mean the 26-year-old Brazilian rules out fighting at flyweight in the future. The Brazilian prospect was “surprised” the UFC chose to reschedule the bout in a heavier weight class, but she sees it as an important “test” in the octagon.
“I like it,” she said. “I think it’s an opportunity to test myself, you know? What if it works and I copy Amanda Nunes — who I’m a big fan of, a champion in two divisions — in the future? I think it really is a good opportunity for me to test myself.”
Ribas turns 27 in August and eyes a permanent move to flyweight for good as she gets older.
“I’m getting close to 30,” she laughed, “and it gets harder to cut weight. I have a short-term goal, a mid-term goal, and a long-term goal in my mind. I think that’s a mid- to long-term goal for me. I think it’s cool, we can’t settle down.
“First, I want to win this fight. And then I want to fight a top-10, a top-5 (opponent), and then the belt will come, if God wants. And down the line, after getting to the belt, I will want another belt, so I don’t settle. I think this fight will be very good for me.”
Ribas’ short-term goal is getting past VanZant in Abu Dhabi, and she doesn’t think “12 Gauge” has “ever faced someone with such a good head.”
“I think Paige is very crazy, you don’t know what to expect from her,” Ribas said. “When you think she will stand and trade, she takes to the ground. And when you think she will grapple, she stays on the feet. I have to be smart against her. Some people say I have to take her down. I’d like that, too, but I have to be smart, because she beat Rachel last time with an armbar.
“She has a lot of kicks, too, but that can be an advantage for me because I can grab her when she kicks and take her to the ground, which is what I like the most. It all depends on how I feel her punches. I don’t think it will last three rounds – I think I’ll finish her. She can take a punch in the face, but we always say in the gym that those who can take a punch in the face can’t take a punch in the body.”