The UFC Needs Paige VanZant's Instagram Followers More Than She Needs The UFC

VanZant has found herself at odds with UFC boss Dana White
16:00, 15 Jul 2020

It was over almost before it began. Eighteen months of waiting culminated in a dominant Amanda Ribas smothering the plucky but outgunned Paige “12 Gauge” VanZant with high knees, then tipping her over to execute a perfect arm bar that had the Oregon flyweight tapping out inside the first round.

As one-sided contests go, this Abu Dhabi, Yas Island encounter was in a league of its own. Paige broke her arm fighting Jessica-Rose Clark in her flyweight debut back in 2018 (she had stepped up from straw-weight) and it’s been holding her back ever since. The Ribas fight was originally due in March, the arm was injured in training and the fight postponed until July 11th when the inevitable injured-arm-gets-bent-backwards happened.    

Nobody was surprised, except possibly Michael Bisping whose ringside commentary was a perfect kiss-of-death outburst: “There’s no quit in Paige VanZant! Oh! She’s tapped out!”. Ribas is a war machine, and has won four straight battles in the Octagon. Paige has spent over a year recovering and although her record stats at 5-4, she is now better known for her work away from fighting, with over 2m fans on Instagram, a second place on America’s hugely popular Dancing With The Stars and her memoir, Rise: Surviving The Fight Of My Life.

Who cares? A fighter’s life is their own, and anyone who can make money away from sheer brutality should be commended. But for Paige, it has opened revenue streams that have put her at odds with the big boss himself, Dana White, UFC president and total king of his fighting fiefdom.

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In an interview with ESPN, VanZant vented her frustration on her UFC contract (which, she claims, is the same one she signed half a decade ago at the age of 22). “Everyone knows how much I make. I make $46,000 a fight. I’m not gonna hide it, everyone knows. I can make way more than that promoting brands on Instagram.

“I have made more money in Dancing With The Stars than I have in my entire UFC career combined… Every fight, every win, every bonus. And it just shows the money is out there – I love fighting, it’s what I love to do.”.

Dana is no stranger to his stable of fighters complaining about pay, but this one seems to have particularly irked, and when Paige arrived in Abu Dhabi, he and Ribas were waiting. Amanda did the work inside the ring, he delivered the coup de grace in the press room.

“When you talk all that stuff, ‘I’m not being paid enough,’ and you’re fighting inconsistently, one time in the last year, and then got smoked in the first round of the fight? She should definitely test free agency.” 

But the truth of the matter is, Dana needs the Paige VanZants of this world. Their crossover-audience brings high volume eyeballs and credit cards for pay-per-view events, which aren’t being bolstered by live crowds. And aside from the UFC, there are other options for Paige. The WWE is calling, and the world of adoring fans, crafted storylines and choreographed moves looks an ideal fit for the 26 year-old. But no matter how bullish Dana may seem, he’s one of the best businessmen in the world. And he knows money when he sees it. Little wonder, despite the damning words and global speculation on free agents, VanZant took to Instagram yesterday to publish simply, “The sun will rise, and we will try again.”

Whether it’s the Octagon or the wrestling ring, only time will tell, but one thing is certain, wherever Paige VanZant goes, 2.2m Instagram followers will be right behind her.

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