In December 2015 the UFC held a Fight Night card in Las Vegas headlined by two up and coming female fighters.
#3 ranked strawweight Rose Namajunas was main eventing against #7 ranked strawweight Paige VanZant. ‘Thug’ Rose was coming off a win over Angela Hill after losing the TUF finale, while VanZant was undefeated in the UFC and being pushed for big things.
The difference in skill level that night was clear. Rose was more technical, hit harder and more well rounded than the tough ’12 Gauge’ and after dominating for four-and-a-half rounds, eventually got the rear-naked choke submission win. VanZant came away from the fight with everyone’s respect though, having battled through a bad cut in the first round and escaped several deep submission attempts by Namajunas by simply refusing to tap.
From there, their careers took completely different paths.
Namajunas went on to defeat reigning 115lb champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk back-to-back to become world champion, while VanZant went 2-2 in her next four fights and gained notoriety for her modelling career and appearances on Dancing With The Stars.
At UFC 251, both women will be on the card together for the first time since that night in 2015 but in very different places in their careers.
Namajunas takes on Jessica Andrade, the woman who dethroned her as champion a little over a year ago. It was her second defence of the belt and she took on Andrade in her home country of Brazil. She absolutely dominated the first round too. Landing punch combos for fun, Andrade looked almost out of her depth. Then in the second round, Andrade showed why she was in a title fight to begin with. In a clinch against the cage Andrade went for a takedown and Namajunas countered with a kimura to try and keep her opponent from slamming her. It didn’t work. Andrade lifted Rose above her head and slammed her into the mat head first, knocking Rose unconscious. She hasn’t fought since.
VanZant hasn’t fought since 2018, when after being beaten up for the entire first round by Rachel Ostovich she secured an armbar victory in the second round. Since then, she’s broken her arm three times and is now heading into the final fight of her UFC contract.
She’ll fight Amanda Ribas, a 9-1 fighter who’s already toppled the likes of Mackenzie Dern and Randa Markos during her short tenure in the UFC. VanZant will be a huge underdog going into the bout and win, lose or draw is expected to leave the company after this event. It’s believed she’ll likely go to Bellator, the promotion where her husband currently fights.
While there are top fighters at Bellator, it’s not by accident that it’s known as the secondary promotion at best behind the UFC. Her contractual issues have spilled over into the public, with her comments that she could have earned the same money doing a regular job, or that she earned more money for Dancing With The Stars than she did for all her UFC fights combined.
A win will be vital for her though. In testing free agency, going in off a loss won’t help her negotiations for better pay and her dream of being taken seriously as a fighter won’t be helped. She’s a good prospect and still only 26 years old, not even in her prime yet really. A win, especially against someone as highly rated as Ribas, will do wonders for her career and maybe even consider getting the UFC to renew her deal.
If the fight back in 2015 had gone differently, we could be seeing two very different career paths. Instead, Fight Island will likely see the end of VanZant’s UFC career and the resurrection of Namajunas’.