Paige VanZant admires the glitter of Ronda Rousey's championship belt and the glamour of her Hollywood career. In and out of the cage, the world's most prominent mixed martial artist is both a hero and a blueprint for VanZant.
She realizes she's still a few years and several victories away from those heights. The 21-year-old UFC prodigy feels she has plenty of time for the climb.
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"Ronda has done amazing things," VanZant said. "She has had amazing success, and it just shows me how far I can take this. Every time I think she has hit the ceiling, she breaks through again. I have to continue winning fights before that can ever happen. I need to create a name for myself, and then maybe I'll get the opportunities she's getting."
VanZant (5-1) takes on veteran Alex Chambers to open the main fight card of UFC 191 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday night. The show is headlined by Demetrious Johnson's flyweight title defense against John Dodson.
A pay-per-view bout is a remarkably prominent position for a fighter in just her third UFC bout, but VanZant's popularity and marketability have pushed her career forward even more quickly than her obvious talent.
She has an endorsement deal with UFC partner Reebok, and the mixed martial arts promotion clearly sees her as a title contender in the relatively near future in the 115-pound strawweight division -- 20 pounds below the bantamweight division dominated by Rousey.
VanZant stopped Kailin Curran and Felice Herrig in her first two UFC fights, and the 36-year-old Chambers (4-2) is another veteran on the winding path to UFC strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk.
VanZant essentially acknowledges she's not yet ready to take on Jedrzejczyk, but that doesn't stop her from setting goals.
"I still have two years to break the record for being the youngest titleholder, so I'm going to take my time in this journey," VanZant said. "I have a career, and I'm 21 years old. Not a lot of 21-year-olds can say that, so I want to enjoy the ride. I love every second of being in the UFC. I love every opportunity I've been given, and when it's my turn for the title, I'll know, and I will be ready for it."
VanZant readily acknowledges that she hopes to transcend the cage in the same way Rousey has done in the past two years with her fame, fortune and roles in three Hollywood movies. VanZant already has an advantage on Rousey in that second career: She was a child actor who appeared in a commercial several years ago for a Bissell steam mop, among other gigs.
But VanZant is focused on her day job: She trains in Sacramento with Team Alpha Male, gaining wisdom and perspective from coach Martin Kampmann and the fighting stable that includes bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw, Urijah Faber and Chad Mendes.
VanZant knows she'll never be exactly like Rousey. She doesn't relate to the champion's combative personality and ferocious trash-talking, although VanZant realizes she might want to get more theatrical as she gets closer to a title shot. VanZant has claimed she was bullied throughout high school before she began her MMA training.
"I'm not saying Ronda puts people down, (but) I'm not someone who puts people down," VanZant said. "I don't have a harder personality. Ronda, she is who she is. She's hard, and that's awesome for her, and it makes her who she is as a champion.
That's not who I am, and I think I'll get my own opportunities just being who I am."
Yet when asked about the haters on social media and the fellow strawweights who believe she has been coddled by the UFC, VanZant responds with a Rousey-esque sound bite: "I think people only hate what they love, what they can't be and what they don't understand. So it's one of the three."
On UFC commentator Joe Rogan's podcast earlier this week, Rousey claimed she will quit fighting by the time she turns 31 years old. Since she turned 28 in February, Rousey is claiming she has less than 2 1/2 years left in her career.
That would leave a large vacancy atop the sport in 2018, and VanZant is among many fighters who hope they'll get a chance to fill it.