This Sunday in St. Louis, Missouri, Paige VanZant makes her first appearance inside the Octagon in over a year at UFC Fight Night 124. Not only does this mark a return to the cage for “12 Gauge” Paige VanZant, but it also represents her first time competing since joining Gracie Barra Portland. VanZant will be going up against a bit of a wild card in Jessica-Rose Clark, who has been streaky in her career but very dangerous. VanZant will be making her debut at flyweight and will be at a size disadvantage against Clark, who is a stout flyweight. Let’s breakdown the matchup and discuss how this fight might shake out.
Paige VanZant has proven throughout her career that she is a well-rounded fighter. She is willing to clinch and outwork her opponents against the cage, use her footwork to be evasive against strikers, and unload very effective ground and pound on the mat. Against her opponent, it will be very important that she uses all of these tools to avoid the two advantages Clark will likely be looking to exploit. Because of her size, Clark will try to use her power to overwhelm VanZant on the feet and control her on the ground. VanZant’s biggest advantages in this fight are movement and control. VanZant has shown that she rarely stands flat-footed in striking exchanges and has fluid movement when she is throwing combinations. Recently, she has been training Muay Thai at Burke Camp in Oregon City. This small and exclusive school is becoming a destination for some of Oregon’s top fighters. VanZant’s kicking game was already very strong (see her performance against Bec Rawlings as proof); her time at Burke Camp has likely helped improve on that. Control is truly VanZant’s ace in the hole. In three of her four UFC victories, VanZant has displayed great positional control in the clinch and a very fluid and smothering ground game. Look for her to use her strikes to setup takedowns and finish the fight on the ground.
Jessica-Rose Clark has been somewhat underwhelming over the last two years. Her last eight fights have all gone the distance and her two most recent wins were split decisions. This fight is a big step up in competition for Clark, whose biggest win to date came against Bec Rawlings, a fighter VanZant has a highlight reel finish against. VanZant’s edge in experience will be something Clark will have to look past if she hopes to keep her focus on the young Oregonian. Clark has a very strong base and decent takedowns but she has an affinity for striking. Her kicks are very powerful and she is excellent at striking in the pocket. However, if the Australian Top Team fighter wants to get the victory, she will need to focus on getting VanZant to the mat and stifling her offense.
On paper, this fight is VanZant’s to lose. Having faced multiple top-ten opponents, including strawweight champion Rose Namajunas, the experience edge is clearly in her favor. It will be interesting to see if there is a stylistic change for VanZant after the shift in training camps but that is about the biggest question mark for her heading into Sunday’s fight. Clark will have less pressure on her for this fight and that could be a factor if she can get ahead early in the bout. A win over VanZant would certainly give Clark a boost in the flyweight rankings.
Prediction: VanZant – TKO Round 2