Paige VanZant is contender on Dancing with the Stars, but it could be detrimental to her career without a victory when she returns to the Octagon.
Dancing with the Stars is currently in its third week of competition and already “12 Gauge” Paige VanZant is proving to be the best mixed martial artist to ever be on the show.
Admittedly, she had a very low bar. The only fighters who have been on the show previously were the retired Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture. It took only a few steps to see neither was about to go very far in the ballroom.
That doesn’t mean she isn’t a contender on the show. She’s received solid scores each week and is holding her own against a talented field. It also helps that she is partnered with two-time champion Mark Ballas whose choreography is second perhaps only to six-time winner Derek Hough.
But while VanZant is dancing her way into the hearts of fans across the country each week, it does noticeably slow down the momentum she’s built for her MMA career in a short span.
There’s no mistake that PVZ is breaking barriers by being on the show. For the portion of the general public that still sees the sport as too violent, making VanZant’s looks and personality visible changes the perception of who mixed martial artists can be. In a way, she is helping the image of the support not unlike UFC superstar Ronda Rousey.
However, VanZant’s fight career does run the risk of losing steam the longer she is focused on the ballroom. Her last fight against third ranked Rose Namajunas in December showed how far her game needs to develop as she was dominated for five rounds in her first ever main event.
Common sense dictated that her next move would be a return to Team Alpha Male to work on her stand-up, not dancing jive on national tv.
VanZant has stated that she is still training while practicing on DWTS and would like to compete on the historic UFC 200 card this summer. Her next opponent is anyone’s guess, however the most likely names are Joanne Calderwood or Maryna Moroz.
“12 Gauge” was originally scheduled to face Calderwood in December before the latter pulled out due to injury. The gritty Calderwood was considered a good stylistic opponent for the still developing American.
Moroz is similar to VanZant as she is 24 years old and has her own blossoming UFC career. The Ukranian strawweight most recently lost a decision to title-challenger Valerie Letourneau and will be competing this Sunday against Cristina Stanciu.
Having VanZant win Dancing with the Stars would be a huge boost for the UFC. But, it could be disastrous for her own personal career if she is not victorious in her Octagon return. A second straight loss would take her out of the title-track as she would fall to 3-2 in the UFC.
While she would still be far from being cut from the organization, it would put her on a much longer road back to contention. More importantly, the perception would be that VanZant is more distracted by outside ventures than a fight career.
In her last fight, she benefitted from having a tenacious showing against Namajunas in fighting through multiple cuts and submission attempts. Despite this, VanZant could hurt her image if it seems she’s less than dedicated to her fight career. Especially, to put it bluntly, if she looks like she preferred something that didn’t risk her commercial ready looks.
The back-lash would be similar, for example, to that directed at fellow young phenom Sage Northcutt. The “Abercrombie model,” as put by UFC President Dana White, received criticism when he appeared to tap prematurely to a submission in his last fight. The perception of Northcutt was that he was a pretty boy who looked like a world beater when things went his way but lacked the tenacity to be a real fighter.
Both fighters have a chance to show the loss is nothing but a setback in careers that have simply not reached their full potential yet. However, VanZant’s high profile exposure on Dancing with Stars gives her more to lose.
She’s expressed multiple times on the show that fighting is what means most to her. But she’ll have to show it when she trades in the dresses for fight gloves on her return.