Paige VanZant is one of the few UFC fighters who is known for more than life inside the Octagon. She finished in second place during one season of “Dancing with the Stars.” She won the Food Network’s cooking show “Chopped.” She appeared in the 2019 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. Behind all that success, however, is a very dark and painful history. And it’s that past that shaped her into the woman she is today.
Paige VanZant gang raped in high school
Paige VanZant had a normal life like any other young girl growing up in Dayton, Oregon. Her parents owned a dance studio. Naturally, she grew up dancing in a variety of genres, including hip-hop, jazz, and ballet. Outside of dancing, she had a tomboy streak and also enjoyed fishing and riding dirt bikes.
Unfortunately, all that innocence of a child was robbed from her when she was a freshman in high school. The 26-year-old detailed in her autobiography, Rise: Surviving the Fight of My Life, how she was 14 years old when she attended a party and was raped by multiple classmates.
Rumors started swirling immediately after the incident. Everywhere she turned, other students were giving her looks and making fun of her. Filled with fear and embarrassment, she would often retreat to the bathroom and a stall where she would eat her lunch.
Suicidal thoughts and a name change
The bullying persisted for years, including one incident where she returned home to find numerous condoms hanging from the trees around her house. Her fear and anxiety grew worse, and at one point, she couldn’t take it anymore. She thought there was only one option — suicide. In an interview with “Good Morning America” promoting her book, she talked about the depths of her despair.
“I didn’t see any way out. When you’re in that position and when you’re feeling that much pain, it’s not that you want to die, you just don’t want to be in that much pain anymore,” she revealed in the interview.
Eventually, she found her way out of the darkness. A big part of it came when she changed her name to VanZant. Prior to the change, her last name was Sletten. Many of those who bullied her would often refer to her as “Slutton.” The name change and a move to Nevada changed the trajectory of her life as it introduced VanZant to her future profession.
Paige VanZant’s career
In 2012, Paige VanZant made her professional debut. After winning three of her first four fights, the UFC noticed the young star and offered her a spot on the roster. She appeared on UFC Fight Night in November 2014, where she won by TKO on punches and earned Fight of the Night honors.
VanZant won her next two fights before suffering her first UFC defeat to Rose Namajunas in December 2015. Since that initial defeat, VanZant has had more than her share of struggles in the Octagon. Her record is just 2-2, but there’s a reason. She suffered a broken arm during one fight in early 2018 that never healed properly and has required multiple surgeries to repair.
The last time VanZant stepped into the cage, she defeated Rachael Ostovich in a second-round submission by armbar. It was her first win in almost three years. Despite her lackluster 8-4 record in MMA, VanZant has fighting and life in perspective. She knows no matter what type of challenges life presents her inside or outside the Octagon, she has already proven to herself, she can overcome them and come out better on the side.
How to get help: In the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Or text HOME to 741-741 to connect with a trained crisis counselor at the free Crisis Text Line.