Paige VanZant looked to be poised as a breakout star for the upcoming 20th season of The Ultimate Fighter, but that will not happen.
The 20-year-old fighter will not be allowed on the show due to her young age. She turned 20 in March, and one must be 21 before they can enter the TUF house to compete on the show. It was unfortunate news for VanZant and fans alike.
While she would not have been a favorite on the show, VanZant had a title opportunity ripped away from her. The TUF finalists will battle for the inaugural UFC Strawweight Championship on the finale.
Instead, the UFC signed her straight to the roster. She will have the luxury of training at home until the strawweights make their official debut later in 2014.
Looking forward to her debut, this is what you need to know about VanZant.
VanZant would have benefited a lot from being on the show. The Ultimate Fighter's pressure cooker environment has routinely advanced the careers of its fighters throughout the years. VanZant would have been trained by one of two extraordinary coaches—Gilbert Melendez or Anthony Pettis and their assistants.
Instead, she stays at home. Which, thankfully, is not a step backward.
VanZant is a member of Team Alpha Male.
Team Alpha Male is still searching for a head coach after losing Duane Ludwig, but the crop of fighters training in that gym are among the best in the world. Especially at the lighter weights.
Urijah Faber, Chad Mendes and Joseph Benavidez are just three of the names that come to mind. All three are former title challengers, and all three are still in position to challenge once more. Team Alpha Male bantamweight T.J. Dillashaw will get a crack at championship gold soon himself.
The TUF house and training schedule would have been very beneficial for VanZant, but the good news is she still trains at one of the top camps in the world.
She will not be able to scout her opponents like the cast members of TUF. They will see their fellow fighters grow and develop firsthand. VanZant will miss that opportunity. On the flip side, the TUF cast will not be able to gauge how fast she has developed while they have been away.
The newly minted 20-year-old has had four professional bouts. She has only dropped one of those, and that was to the now No. 6-ranked Tecia Torres.
She made her professional debut in June of 2012 with a split decision win over Jordan Nicole Gaza. VanZant would follow that up with a unanimous decision win three months later against Amber Stautzenberger.
Then she got the call to compete in the premier women's organization—Invicta FC.
VanZant would be taking on the 1-0 Torres. The two strawweight prospects battled for 15 minutes, but Torres showed she was simply too far technically advanced at this stage in her career.
If nothing else, it was a good learning experience for VanZant. She got to compete against someone who would soon shoot up the rankings into the top 10. She has experience against a top-tier fighter, and she knows what she needs to work on before making her UFC debut.
Three months following her first loss, she took to the cage again against Courtney Himes. In just 2:21 she secured a rear-naked choke for the win.
Since that day in early April, VanZant has not been in the cage again. She was tapped as one of the initial strawweights for the UFC. There is little doubt she will be a much more technically skilled fighter come late 2014.
VanZant's TUF expectations were low. It was not a knock on her personally, but it was telling of how talented the house will be for the upcoming season.
Five of the top 10, and several other talented veterans will be in the house. The expectations for VanZant would have been to drop a bout to one of those women and spend the rest of her time developing her skills in the house.
Now, the expectations shift a tiny bit.
We do not know when she will debut or against whom. Will the UFC throw the youngster in against one of the top strawweights that did not make the finale, or will she take on someone outside of the top 10 in an effort to slowly bring her along?
As a Team Alpha Male fighter, VanZant's expectations for her Octagon debut is to look polished—plain and simple.
She has a solid core of skills that have been sharpened for over at year, at this point, and will be for more than six more months by the time she makes her debut.
The Team Alpha Male fighter should be a much more skilled fighter the next time we see her step through the cage door. Regardless, we need to remember she is only 20 years of age and still has a lot more time to develop into a potential star in the new strawweight division.
Everyone should expect to see significant growth as a fighter at the highest levels.
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