In her first headlining gig for the UFC, rising strawweight star Paige VanZant was facing a tough test: Joanne Calderwood, the Scottish star who broke out as a favourite on The Ultimate Fighter. Though she didn’t win the show, fans came to love her sweet disposition and heart in the cage. The pairing of the two meant two fan faves going to war at UFC Fight Night 80, but it seemed right — two fighters, both with a lot of heart, who might be seen as fairly even, all things considered, despite Calderwood having a clear advantage in experience.

Come Wednesday, however, all bets were off: Calderwood was out of the fight, and in her place stepped Rose Namajunas, the runner up of TUF 20. Despite being just 3-2 in her pro career (she’s coming off a submission win over Angela Hill after losing to Carla Esparza at the TUF 20 finale), Namajunas is a dangerous fighter whose record doesn’t do her justice. She trains with popular heavyweight and former UFC star Pat Berry, and was undefeated on the show before falling in that first title shot, having beaten Alex Chambers, Randa Markos, and Calderwood herself during the course of the season.

All three of those exhibition fights were submission victories, just as all three of her pro fights have been. She also has a 4-0 record as an amateur, with two finishes.

As beloved as Calderwood is, as gritty and determined, it feels like more is at risk now for 12 Guage. Thug Rose will be her biggest test to date, something Calderwood already was, but given Namajunas’ finishing rate, it’s simply a more dangerous bout.

On the flip side, it’s all the more rewarding, but even that has inherent risks. Should VanZant win, where does she go from there, but to a title shot, likely before she’s ready? Rushing prospects to title shots risks ruining them. And as much as the UFC (and MMA in general) is a sport, it’s also a business. In sports, at least team sports, you have teams looking to develop players in the minors, and break them in at the right time. In fighting, there often is no such luxury — but promotions do need to keep it in mind. The quicker fighters burn out, the less time they have to develop into top stars.

Not that she should (or even could) turn the fight down. Nor did the UFC likely have many available options. It’s simply a case of bad timing, but here’s to hoping that, win or lose, VanZant the fight has some positives for her.

About The Author

Senior Staff Writer

Covering the sport of MMA from Ontario, Canada, Jay Anderson has been writing for various publications covering sports, technology, and pop culture since 2001. Jay holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Guelph, and a Certificate in Leadership Skills from Humber College under the Ontario Management Development Program. When not slaving at the keyboard, he can be found in the company of his dog, a good book, or getting lost in the woods.