To say that Nov. 4, the date of UFC 217, produced several major newsworthy stories would be an understatement, but one fighter made waves without throwing a single punch.
On a night where Rose Namajunas ended Joanna Jedrzejczyk’s reign of terror atop the strawweight division, T.J. Dillashaw and Cody Garbrandt finally threw down after months of trash talk, and all-time great Georges St-Pierre came out of retirement to become a two-division UFC champion, Paige VanZant caused an uproar on social media with a two-sentence tweet:
Fans quickly did the math and realized that VanZant was essentially saying that she would be fighting for a title soon, given that the latest season of The Ultimate Fighter features a 16-woman tournament to crown the UFC’s first women’s flyweight champion.
The tweet seemed curious given that VanZant has yet to compete at 125 pounds inside the Octagon and she is coming off two losses in her last three fights. The reaction to her announcement was met with widespread skepticism.
On Monday, VanZant appeared on The MMA Hour to clarify why she dropped that bomb on social media and where she actually stands in the UFC’s newest division.
“There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes that the general public doesn’t really know about,” VanZant said. “That was some of the talk within the UFC and within my team and being at Madison Square Garden and watching these three title fights, and one of my only losses in the UFC is to Rose Namajunas. To see her fighting for the title and then win the title, I was all amped up and full of energy and I was like, ‘I’m tweeting it!’ Because who knows? The answer is always ‘no’ unless you ask.”
How far along this idea was actually developed is unclear, though VanZant insists that there were legitimate talks between herself, her team, and UFC officials. Considering how strongly the 23-year-old has been marketed since joining the promotion in 2014 and the mainstream cachet she’s acquired from stints on popular reality shows like Dancing with the Stars and Chopped, it wasn’t completely farfetched that the matchmakers would push her into a title shot sooner rather than later.
For VanZant, it was at worst a case of wishful thinking and wanting another chance at an opportunity that passed her by a few years ago. “12 Gauge” was too young to be eligible to compete on Season 20 of TUF, which produced the promotion’s inaugural strawweight champion, and she regrets not being more diligent in finding a way to join this year’s TUF 26cast.
“I am coming off a loss, I know that,” VanZant said. “But coming up to a new division, my only two losses in the UFC are to the now-115-lb champion – and I went five rounds with Rose. I did get beat up, I do know that, but I went five rounds with her – and also to Michelle Waterson, who is ranked in the top-5 I believe. So my only two losses in the UFC are to very formidable opponents and looking at the 125-lb Ultimate Fighter right now, it would have been an amazing opportunity for me to be in the house.
“So I don’t know how that got passed up for me, I feel like I would have loved to be on this season of The Ultimate Fighter since I wasn’t able to compete on the (Ultimate Fighter 20) 115-division because I was only 19 years old. I think anything is an option and people can talk their way into absolutely anything and I was going to take that opportunity, but I don’t think I can wait and I heard that if I was to fight for a title it wouldn’t be until March or so. I just can’t wait that long.”
VanZant announced on The MMA Hour that she will return to action on Jan. 14 at a Fight Night event in St. Louis, Mo.