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Paige VanZant Dazzles on 'Dancing with the Stars' Despite Partner Injury

Scott Harris@ScottHarrisMMAMMA Lead WriterMarch 29, 2016

Paige VanZant
Paige VanZantGabe Ginsberg/Getty Images

MMA fighters are no strangers to last-second lineup changes.

UFC women's strawweight Paige VanZant proved that point—with extreme prejudice—Monday on Dancing with the Stars when she overcame a late injury to her dance partner to dazzle judges and viewers on the ABC dance competition.

"Congratulations on the best dance so far for season 22," said judge Len Goodman, according to Aaron Pruner of Zap2It, after VanZant's performance.

During Sunday rehearsals, VanZant's typical dance partner, Mark Ballas, slipped a disk in his back, which forced backup Alan Bersten off the bench and into the breach. 

VanZant didn't let it cramp her style, as she dominated with an electric salsa performance. The judges rewarded her forcefulness—and, perhaps, her courage in the face of adversity—with three scores of eight, which gave VanZant an impressive score of 24.

Words cannot explain how incredibly proud I am of @paigevanzantufc WOW! 🎉🎉💃🏼💃🏼 thank you. Feel better @markballas pic.twitter.com/A7sjTeOiMW

— Alan Bersten (@Dance10Alan) March 29, 2016

In a competition as intense as Dancing with the Stars, how does one overcome a blow as potentially devastating as the loss of one's dancing partner? Perhaps not surprisingly, VanZant said the experience was similar to experiences she has faced in cagefighting.

“I just had to not think about that I was with a whole new partner,” VanZant told backstage reporter Erin Andrews after the performance, per UFC.com. “It was scary. When I fight, opponents switch, so I thought about it like that and had to pull it together.”

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Pull it together she did. Her performance was so impressive that Erin Jensen of USA Today called it the second-best dance of the night, noting that VanZant's "new partner had just two hours to rehearse before performing the salsa on live television, but you would probably never know it."

VanZant, 22, is 6-2 as a pro fighter, with a mark of 3-1 in the UFC. Most recently, she suffered a lopsided submission loss to Rose Namajunas in December.

The UFC has made no secret that it is pushing VanZant and her California-blonde good looks, and it is unsurprisingly behind her in her quest to become a DWTS champion.

Different partner? No problem? @PaigeVanZantUFC was on 🔥 🔥 🔥 ! A score of 24 on @DancingABC! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! #DWTS pic.twitter.com/bz0lnNCHdD

— UFC (@ufc) March 29, 2016

As fans await next week's performance, they will also wait on pins and needles to find out the results of the tests on Ballas' back. Will he get the green light to return to competition? Stay tuned to find out!

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