Paige VanZant is the she-hero I never knew I needed in my life.
Let me start off by saying that I know I’ve only been posting [and tweeting] about my creative writing ventures lately. Right now, however, I want to talk about the other half of my life: Mixed Martial Arts (known, for short, as MMA).
I’m still in the early[ish] stages of my training, of course. But, that doesn’t mean MMA isn’t a huge part of my life. In fact, when I’m not writing, eating, sleeping, showering, or driving, I’m at the gym training with my coach or on my own.
Yes, it’s true that I’m a pretty big Ronda Rousey fan (she was brilliant as a UFC fighter and is equally great as a WWE superstar). I also adore UFC’s Cris Cyborg and the WWE’s Daria Berenato (more commonly known by her superstar name, Sonya Deville). But, when it comes to Paige VanZant, who is also an extraordinary fighter, I’m even further inspired by her on a human level.
For those of you who don’t know who Paige VanZant is, she’s a 5′ 4″, 125-pound UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) fighter (before becoming a flyweight, she fought at 115 pounds as a straw weight). She’s the portrait of traditional femininity in the streets in the streets (she’s absolutely beautiful and adorable), and (yes, “and”… not “but”) she’s also an absolute menace in the cage.
So, what is it about Paige VanZant that sets her apart from all my other female fighter icons? Well, let me start with this: in the MMA world, fighters exposing any “vulnerabilities” they have isn’t really a thing you see all that often. You don’t see too many people talking about how they got bullied growing up, and you also don’t see them talking about how they got sexually assaulted or raped. More importantly, you definitely don’t reveal these things when you’re a petite, “feminine-as-flowers” female in a male-dominated sport.
Unless you’re Paige VanZant, that is.
She actually wrote an entire book about her experiences… and then proceeded to publish it, AND go on a tour for it! That’s actually how I got to meet her for two short minutes (yes, she’s just as lovely and sweet of a human being as you’d imagine).
I haven’t had a chance to pick up her book just yet, but I’ve heard plenty about it. Paige admitted things in her book that those of us in her minority group of petite, light, very feminine-presenting female MMA fighters would not generally care to admit to their fight peers: in high school, she was raped by several male classmates, and then bullied for it by a bunch of girls at school.
Paige’s last name wasn’t always “VanZant”. She was forced to change it after her classmates used her surname, Sletten, as a way to slut shame her [for being raped, I might add], calling her “Slutton”.
I’ll just go ahead and say it because I know we’re all thinking it: WHAT THE ACTUAL HELL IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE?!
Little did her classmates know that just a little while later, despite their best efforts to knock her down, Paige would bloom into the mixed martial arts fighter and victorious woman she was always meant to be. She found success, fans, and support, and she even married her one true love. Paige is courageous and kind-hearted; it looks like the universe decided to reward her for it!
Despite the other obvious reasons, Paige is also my hero[ine] because she’s relatable. Not only am I a 4’10”, future strawweight/flyweight, very feminine-presenting fighter myself, but I’m also a former, long-time target of bullies, and a survivor of several counts of sexual assault and rape.
There, I said it. Now, it’s out there for the world to see.
If Paige can, then I can too: I’m a survivor of sexual violence, and I stand in solidarity with Paige VanZant and every other women [and person] who has gone through this traumatic ordeal.
It might not be considered “cool” as an MMA fighter, or even as a person, to admit that you were the underdog once… that you were the one being insulted, tormented, and attacked instead of the person everyone was too afraid to even breathe around. But, I think coming back from things like bullying and sexual violence, and then using your experiences to set a positive example for others makes you the absolute “cooliest”, as Josh Nichols would famously say.
There are so many days when I question if I’m a raging lunatic for trying to be an MMA fighter. I’m definitely tinier than every single one of the people I train with, I love dresses and lipstick far, far more than any of the other female fighters I’ve met, and I definitely wasn’t that “tough” kid at school growing up… like, at all.
But then, I see photos of Paige VanZant in all her glory both in the cage and the gym, decked out in her sportiest attire, as well as outside of it, rocking feminine outfits and sleek stilettos. I observe how in the MMA universe, people of all genders, sizes, shapes, weights, and backgrounds love and respect her as a fighter, a woman, and a human being. I realize that, like Paige, I’ll be okay as long as I try my best to be brave, honest, hard-working, dedicated, and kind… in both my training and my life.
Thank you for everything, Paige. We love you.
P.S.: You’re going to kill it in the cage on January 19th. Xoxo.
Featured image from mmainsight.com.
First image from people.com.
Second image from espn.com.
Third image from barnesandnoble.com.
Fourth image from muscleandfitness.com.
Fifth image from rgj.com.
Sixth image in article from reviewjournal.com.