PORTLAND, Ore. — Paige VanZant is a professional mixed martial artist whose star power transcends beyond her sport.
She's an author, t.v. analyst, she was a finalist on 'Dancing with the Stars' and has more than 2 million followers on Instagram.
She's also an Oregonian.
"I feel like a lot of people don't know that I'm from Oregon," said VanZant. "I was born and raised in Oregon, specifically in Dayton and Newberg, Oregon. I'm from very very small towns, but it feels so good to represent where I'm from and representing a piece of myself when I fight and compete."
Training at American Top Team Portland, VanZant is fighting for the first time since January 2019.
"I've had a lot of time off, I've had multiple surgeries, broken my arm three times, so it feels good to finally have the journey started once I left Portland and fight week has started."
This is the furthest journey she's had to make in her MMA career. During the pandemic, the UFC has managed to put on events since May, but this one is different.
Dubbed 'Fight Island,' the UFC is in Abu Dhabi for three fight cards. VanZant is featured on the first one on July 11.
"This whole 'Fight Island' thing, I wasn't sure if it was a myth or not or actually happening, so it was really cool to be a part of something so legendary and so iconic," said VanZant. "I'll be kicking off the main card as the first fight. It's cool, it's a brand new experience."
Sporting an 8-4 professional record, 5 wins in the UFC, oddsmakers list VanZant as the underdog against flyweight Amanda Ribas.
"It's familiar, I've been here before and it's just a fine place to be in. It does take pressure off myself when everyone expects you to lose. There isn't that pressure, so I'm excited to go out there and really show everyone how good I am."
This could be her last fight in the UFC. It is the final fight on her current contract with the company. The result could have an impact on negotiating a new deal, a pivotal moment in her career heading into free agency.
"I really don't try to think of it like that. I feel like that would put a lot of pressure on myself," said VanZant. "I go into every single fight and put the same type of effort into it. I'm going out there to win this fight, make a really big statement and see what happens in the future."
Competing on 'Fight Island' is exciting but there's still one destination missing.
"We're really coming up as a sports city and I would hope someday, I would be able to fight in Portland, so I could have my true fan base there."
She's looking forward to the future of mixed martial arts in the Pacific Northwest.
"It's cool to see the way it's grown. We didn't have a huge MMA scene until recently," said VanZant, "I train at American Top Team Portland in SE Portland and we have a huge facility and an amazing kids program, so it's cool to see the kids' program growing and know that's an option for kids now."
"Living in Dayton, Oregon and Newberg high school, I went there and their men's wrestling team was amazing, known for their wrestling. I'm so excited now to be the face of female martial arts, female combat sports for our area and I hope that women come to American Top Team and have all the wrestlers come and train and see how fighting can create an entire career for our youth."