It is one thing to engage in bare-knuckle boxing. It’s quite another to see your wife doing it for the first time.
That’s what Austin Vanderford felt when he saw his wife Paige VanZant making her bare knuckle debut under the BKFC banner at February’s KnuckleMania festival. VanZant faced Britain Hart and was defeated by a five-round unanimous decision in her first fight since leaving the UFC in 2020.
Overall, it was a learning experience not only for VanZant in the ring but also for Vanderford as her husband and number one supporter.
“It honestly felt like an MMA fight, Of course, there’s a little more at stake with the damage and it being a new venture and whatnot. I was extremely proud, especially her last round I thought she really turned it on and it kind of showed what she can go forward and do in the fights to come,” Vanderford said.
“More than anything, her spirit wasn’t broken. We learned from it and there was definitely a learning curve. One of the biggest advantages in bare knuckle is just the experience, going in there and doing it.
“It’s different than what we’ve grown accustomed to with having pads on our hands and going to bare knuckle, not really knowing if her hands were going to break. How many shots can I take before I’m completely sliced up, and all that.
“But I’m really confident, excited for her next fight and I was extremely proud.”
Vanderford (10-0) will fight Fabian Edwards at Bellator 259 on Friday night. Vanderford will face his toughest test yet as Edwards has never lost in his professional MMA. A victory over Edwards will put him in a strong place in the Bellator middleweight title chase.
Vanderford’s admiration for his wife is palpable. Despite the fact that the outcome was not what they had wished for, he believes VanZant gained a lot from her fight – and as a result, he was able to breathe a little easier.
“Of course we were both bummed out [about the loss],” Vanderford said.
“It felt like it was a fight she could win but going into it, Britain had the experience over her—I think it was her fourth or fifth fight—and it just was a big eye-opener. Even just the round lengths being so short, and just knowing how much we could put on the gas pedal from the opening minutes to the rest of the fight.
“But it was kind of hard to watch, for sure.”
Although no official date has been set, sources previously told MMA Fighting that BKFC is planning a fight between “12 Gauge” and promotional newcomer and former octagon competitor Rachael Ostovich in June or July.
In January 2019, VanZant submitted Ostovich in the second round of their UFC on ESPN+ 1 matchup.
According to Vanderford, VanZant is set to get back as soon as possible.