Paige VanZant has every intention to compete again in combat sports. She’s committed to returning to All Elite Wrestling, too.
For now, as she continues to work back from a foot fracture, she’s settling for a combat sports fix in other ways. This week, that means joining a celebrity panel of judges on the latest edition of the PFL Challenger Series on Friday (9 p.m., fuboTV).
“It couldn’t have happened at a better time because I do have two teammates that are fighting on this particular card that I get to be a judge on,” VanZant told The Post via Zoom on Thursday. “I’m hoping it goes really well.”
As for her own fight career, VanZant said “I highly anticipate fighting, probably in April” to compete for the third time with Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship. She had been on track to face Charisa Sigala first in August 2022 and then in October, although neither fight materialized.
In late December, she shared X-rays of her fractured foot — and in the process discovered two older fractures of which she had previously been unaware — suffered while “having too much fun in Alaska” with husband Austin Vanderford, a middleweight competing with Bellator.
The former “Dancing With the Stars” winner noted other factors regarding her extended break from competition: Supporting Vanderford’s own fight career, having a house constructed that’s taking longer than expected, filming a movie in Los Angeles and “training and finding myself again.”
A year without a fight can be a financial strain on the majority of fighters, but VanZant is in a unique position. In addition to crossover appeal outside of the fighting world, she supports herself and her husband comfortably through content sharing on sites such as OnlyFans, although she declined to comment on how much she earns from such revenue streams.
“I think that I’m extremely successful at what I do, and there’s a reason that I am able to financially support myself,” VanZant says. “I also have an extremely successful husband as well. Between the two of us, we’re a dual-income family with no kids, other than my dog. We’re blessed.
“And we’ve been just extremely smart financially, too. We have investment properties, we’ve invested extremely well in the stock market — which isn’t doing so great right now — but we’ve done well. I think I credit a lot of that to my parents just telling me not to keep all my eggs in one basket. And that’s what I’v done.”
VanZant will be in a different type spotlight on Friday night. Her two fellow American Top Team fighters competing on PFL Challenger Series are Michelle Montague, who faces Shaquita Amador Woods, and Evelyn Martins, who fights Jeslen Mishelle, on the four-bout slate featuring all women’s featherweights — although Martins missed the 146-pound maximum by 0.8 pounds at Thursday’s weigh-in.
Naturally, one wonders if these two athletes would receive preferential treatment. Even VanZant, a nine-fight UFC veteran, acknowledges the optics of the situation. But, she points out, it’s up to the panel of judges to select one of the eight fighters who receives an offer to continue competing for PFL. She is joined this week by rapper and PFL investor Wiz Khalifa, as well as former UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley. Fan votes are also a factor.
“I’m definitely going to be completely unbiased because this is the sports world, and it’s only fair,” VanZant professes, before noting her familiarity with Montague and Martins. “It’s just exciting because I know the talent that these two girls have, and I think being able to come with more knowledge on the background that they bring into the cage is something that definitely is in my favor, in this particular instance.”