NEWARK, N.J. - All eyes were on former ring card girl Paige VanZant for the highest profile fight of her young career on the first fight of the main card at UFC on Fox 15 at the Prudential Center.
UFC president Dana White even popped by VanZant's dressing room before the fight and wished her luck.
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The 21-year-old strawweight proved why she is on the brink of MMA stardom.
The 5-foot-4 VanZant was all smiles and bounced on her heels as she watched the prefight video package on the big screen. Felice Herrig, her 115-pound opponent, said in the video that VanZant had yet to truly earn her spot and only had a personal endorsement deal with Reebok because of her looks.
VanZant beamed and waved on her way to the cage, hardly rattled by the pressure of the big night. Once inside, she absolutely crushed Herrig for three rounds and cruised to a unanimous decision victory.
"It's like my birthday every time I walk out to the cage," she said.
VanZant (5-1) landed several knees after the opening bell of the first round and never let up. She stayed on top of Herrig (10-6) and landed fist after fist to the face as a part of her ground game and she never showed signs of fatigue. VanZant pinned Herrig against the cage in the third round and finished her for good with a serious of brutal elbows to the head.
"I started crying before the fight was over," VanZant said in the cage.
She was 18 when she won her first professional bout in Texas and stepped up to the all-women Invicta promotion in January 2013. With the Jersey crowd going wild for the perky and powerful VanZant, UFC might have found its next breakthrough female star.
"I'm here for the fun of it and I'm so thankful," she said. "I can't believe I made it through that fight. It only goes up from here."