Paige VanZant is the new face of MMA fighting
Paige VanZant is no lightweight when it comes to dancing.
She danced competitively throughout her childhood, long before she became a marquee name for mixed martial arts fighting.
Those skills may give VanZant, who trains at Ultimate Fitness in downtown Sacramento, an advantage as she faces off against opponents in the 22nd season of “Dancing With the Stars,” scheduled to debut March 21 on ABC.
“I hope so,” VanZant said in a telephone interview from New York, where she and other cast members were featured Tuesday on a national morning news show. “I hope I’m able to channel some of that and do well.”
VanZant, 21 will be shifting her training to Los Angeles in the coming weeks while rehearsing for the show, which drew more than 14 million viewers for its 2015 finale.
Geraldo Rivera, Doug Flutie in cast
She has been paired with professional ballroom dancer Mark Ballas. The Season 22 cast also includes NFL players Von Miller and Antonio Brown, former quarterback Doug Flutie, actress Jodie Sweetin and television personality Geraldo Rivera.
VanZant, who won her first three Ultimate Fighting Championship bouts before losing in December, has become one of the rising stars of the sport. She has signed contracts with major sponsors, including Reebok, and has been featured in its “Tough Is Beautiful” campaign, which focuses on elite female athletes who have large social media followings.
She has made no secret of her desire to parlay her fighting success into Hollywood stardom like former bantamweight champ Ronda Rousey, who has several acting gigs under her belt. She also wants to use her experience to inspire young girls to reach for their dreams, and to educate the public that “I’m not just a fighter and a tough girl. I have a feminine side, too.”
VanZant learned she had been picked for “DWTS” a couple of months ago, but had to keep the news a secret from most of her friends and fans until this week.
“I told my coaches so they knew I wasn’t just disappearing on them,” she said. “I told my parents. But I couldn’t really tell anyone else. It was so hard!”
Despite her fitness level and dancing background, she said, her rehearsals with Ballas have so far been anything but easy.
“There’s no training like the MMA. I think it’s the toughest training of all,” VanZant said. “But dancing uses a whole different group of muscles. It’s hard in its own way.
“I’m learning all types of new dance moves. I’ve never done ballroom dancing. I’ve never even worked with a partner before.”
Still, VanZant’s confidence is high, just as it is in the octagon.
“I definitely get nervous,” she said. “But I am a competitor and I really love to win. There are a lot of other amazing athletes in the competition, but I think I could potentially go far.”