From Dayton to the UFC: Paige VanZant returns home to Oregon - KPTV - FOX 12

From Dayton to the UFC: Paige VanZant returns home to Oregon

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From Dundee to Dayton to Newberg to chasing the highest of heights in the UFC at the age of 23, Paige VanZant – nicknamed “12 Gauge” – has an exclusive endorsement deal with Reebok, has danced with the stars, won a cooking show and one day just might have her own show, now in her fifth year as a pro. 

“For myself, coming from the small town, I lived in Dayton, Oregon. Then I lived in Newberg, Oregon which was like stepping up to a bigger city,” said VanZant.  

She is now a big time star in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. 

“The UFC is the NFL of the fight world,” said VanZant. “I’m right where I belong and I don’t want to be anywhere else.”

It was VanZant’s father, a state wrestler at Newberg High, who convinced her to take a mixed martial arts class when they moved to Reno, Nevada. 

“My dad loves that I fight. He’s absolutely obsessed with it … The only person that doesn’t like that I fight is my mom,” said VanZant. “I think the one fight she went to I got cut open in the first round and there was just blood everywhere, so she doesn't watch me fight anymore.”

However, her mom sure loved her recent second place finish on Season 22 of ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.”

“My mom opened Chehalem Valley Dance Academy in Newberg, Oregon so I was a dancer my whole life,” said VanZant. 

Dancing, fighting and cooking – the 23-year-old just won her Celebrities for Charity episode of “Chopped” on the Food Network. 

“I love cooking so being able to compete on ‘Chopped’ was definitely a lifelong dream of mine,” said VanZant. 

Yet it’s her hunger to get to the top of her game in the octagon of the women's strawweight division of the UFC that brings her back to the Beaver State. 

“This is home for me, born and raised,” said VanZant. “I moved away when I was 15 and have been gone for the last eight years and you always have this longing to be back where you belong and I feel like that’s here.”

That “here” is up on the hill, conditioning in West Linn. 

“I am at a place in my career where I can choose where I want to train and why would I train anywhere else?” she said. 

VanZant has been training together for the last month with Dave Shelofsky, the one-time California cop who works with guys in the NFL and fellow Portland-area MMA star Chael Sonnen.

“What really makes her special is she has no off switch. I am pushing her to a place where she should absolutely fold and quit and begin crying like most of my male athletes and she just asks for more,” said Shelofsky. 

With six UFC bouts under her belt, VanZant wants it all – including that strawweight title belt.

“Having family in my corner and having that support system, it changes everything,” she said. “It makes me want to win even more.”

Shelofsky said, “At 23 years old, where is she going? She's a third of the way up Mt. Everest and she's going to the top, you don't know. People like that can influence.”

And bullies beware. 

“She hates bullies. Most of the people that fight, hate bullies,” said Shelofsky. “They've been bullied or been victimized and they just say, ‘That's enough.’ She’s got that mantra and for anyone out there being bullied.”

7-and-3 as a pro fighter, the next page of her career includes a book. Her first memoir is slated to be released this December.

“Whenever you’ve kept something secret in your life that you’ve kept secret for a while, it definitely eats at you so if you really want healing, you have to get your story out if you really want to move past it,” she said. “This will hopefully inspire some young girls to keep going because everyone goes through hard times but it's about not burning in the fire, it's about growing from it.”

VanZant is now awaiting her next opponent this summer in Las Vegas. 

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