It must be good to be a young and highly touted strawweight. Ask Paige VanZant. She would know. After a dominating submission victory over Alex Chambers at UFC 191, VanZant is not short of challengers who want to step inside the Octagon with her.
The 21-year-old is riding a four-fight winning streak since she suffered her first loss to Tecia Torres under the Invicta FC banner in 2013. She has climbed all the way up to become the sixth best strawweight according to the UFC rankings. The victory over Chambers gave VanZant her third victory inside the UFC and has left two strawweights from the 20th season of The Ultimate Fighter calling for a fight.
Randa Markos and Bec Rawlings have each called out VanZant with the desire to serve as her next opponent in the UFC. It’s a smart play for either fighter considering the attention any fight with VanZant could possibly bring.
The UFC has done well to keep VanZant on the safe track to a title shot and out of the shark-infested waters of the top of the strawweight division. The UFC is right in doing so considering all of the hype surrounding VanZant and her potential to be the next great female fighter on the UFC roster. It’s a smart move, instead of just tossing her to Claudia Gadelha, Jessica Aguilar or into a rematch with Torres. If the UFC continues at the rate it’s bringing VanZant along, she might not even have a title shot until after her fifth or sixth fight in the UFC — assuming VanZant continues to win, of course.
A fight with Markos could make some sense for the UFC’s budding star. Markos, who performed remarkably well in the TUF competition, would be a step up in competition for the young star. Markos has a dominating wrestling style that could sap the hype out of VanZant relatively quickly. The one big selling point from a fight with Markos is that we would get to see just how tough VanZant is against someone who is going to shoot for the takedown. VanZant’s previous opponents — Chambers, Felice Herrig and Kailin Curran — didn’t carry that threat in their game. They are completely different fighters than someone like Markos.
Rawlings is the more interesting candidate seeking a crack at VanZant. The Australian fighter could be the smart play if the UFC wants to build up VanZant before she gets a crack at the top of the mountain. VanZant likes to brawl and Rawlings would almost definitely oblige that strategy. If the UFC wants to put on an entertaining fight, this is probably the way to go.
The UFC will have to eventually give VanZant a top opponent, though, and Markos edges out Rawlings in this regard. Markos gives VanZant a different test altogether, instead of throwing her in with another opponent who will gladly brawl. There is going to come a time when the UFC decides to cash in on its prospect and take advantage of her marketability for a title fight. By signing her on for Markos, the company is taking a step in that direction and closing in on the reality that VanZant will get the title shot.
Who knows, maybe the UFC continues to build VanZant against the bottom half of the top 10. However, Markos represents the necessary next step if the UFC wants to build a future star.