When asked if she would accept a fight while competing on the current season of Dancing With The Stars, UFC strawweight rising star Paige VanZant said that she would, as long as she was allowed proper time to prepare. “I’d give myself plenty of time to finish the show and then go into a full fight camp,” 12 Gauge, who is coming off her December loss to Rose Namajunas, told MMAjunkie last month. “I’m not going to rush myself or put myself in a bad position. But I’m a fighter first, so I’ll be ready to get back in the cage.”
Last night, VanZant made good on that promise when she stepped back into the cage, ready to compete. It just wasn’t exactly in the way anyone had anticipated.
This week’s theme on the 22nd edition of the show was “Memorable Year Night,” in which the stars looked back on a pivotal moment in their lives, and their professional partners interpreted those experiences through the art of dance. Football and Flakes great Doug Flutie performed a waltz about the tragic loss of both of his parents in 2015. Full(er) House star Jodie Sweetin poured her heart into an emotional foxtrot about getting her life back on track after becoming sober five years ago. VanZant went with the year of her UFC debut, a stunning upset KO over the undefeated favorite, Kailin Curran, at UFC Fight Night 57 in August 2014. Her primary partner Mark Ballas (who is currently working through an injury, something any fighter can appreciate) turned her story of childhood bullying trauma and martial arts redemption into a combat-influenced Paso Doble. The pair performed the dance to the tune of the popular walkout song “300 Violin Orchestra” by Jorge Quintero, inside of a giant DWTS-branded cage.
It might sound cheesy on paper but, as Fightland’s resident expert on dance fighting (mostly because I wrote the breathless and criminally underappreciated “A Brief History of Dance Fighting” last year), I am happy to report that 12 Gauge’s offering is a very pleasant surprise. Even if the pre-performance clip in which Dana White proclaims her “one of the top ten best fighters in the world” seems a bit awkwardly and abruptly edited.
Ballas’s choreography almost seamlessly blends traditional dance elements with strikes, blocks, Superman punches, and even a few brief touches of clinch work in a manner that’s not even remotely as cheesy as it should be. And VanZant, who has a childhood background in dance, brought both art and martial art to her partner’s vision. For an added touch of the cleverness, the dance was thematically appropriate as well. The traditional Paso Doble is based on the music that plays at bullfights just before the kill, and the leader represents the matador. In the final moments of their performance last night, VanZant delivered a flashy, stylized KO to her partner.
While judge Len Goodman said that he would have liked to see more Paso Doble elements in the dance, VanZant remained a favorite among the other members of the panel and was proclaimed “bad ass” for her efforts. The pair earned a score of 23 out of a possible 30, putting them behind only America’s Next Top Model star Nyle DiMarco and Boyz II Men singer Wanya Morris (24), and tied with Sweetin.
The studio audience, which included VanZant’s Team Alpha Male teammate Urijah Faber and fellow UFC fighter-turned DWTS competitor Chuck Liddell, was far less guarded in their assessment, though. They gave the dance a standing ovation.
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