In December 2013, with only four professional fights on her resume, Paige VanZant was signed by the Ultimate Fighting Championship along with eleven other female strawweights to be part of an all-female cast of the twentieth season of The Ultimate Fighter.
Twenty years old at the time, VanZant was too young to appear on the reality series, which has a minimum age requirement of 21 due to the presence of alcohol in the “fighter house.”
She made her octagon debut in November against Kailin Curran on the UFC Fight Pass-streamed prelims of UFC Fight Night 57. She defeated Curran by TKO and attracted the attention of the general public. A Reebok endorsement deal soon followed, and a star was born.
Her meteoric rise to stardom brought with it criticism and animosity. Some said she didn’t deserve the attention, endorsement deals and hype after only one fight under the UFC banner.
On Saturday, VanZant defeated eighth-ranked Felice Herrig in dominating fashion at UFC on Fox 15 in her second octagon appearance, proving that the hype was warranted. UFC president Dana White compared the 21-year-old strawweight sensation to top featherweight contender Conor McGregor.
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“It’s almost like the Conor McGregor thing. The guy bursts out of nowhere and explodes on the scene and backs it up. And Paige VanZant did too. She looked unbelievable,” said White during the UFC on Fox 15 Post Show.
According to White, VanZant has a rare characteristic which he refers to as the “it factor.” He’s said the same thing in the past about McGregor and women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey.
“She’s one of those people that has that thing, for instance, everybody wanted to meet Paige VanZant. Out of all the people that fought on the card, everybody wanted to meet Paige VanZant… She has it.”