Bec Rawlings vs. Paige VanZant: Know Thy Enemy

Bec Rawlings heads to Vancouver, British Columbia this weekend to fight on the main card of UFC on Fox: Maia vs. Condit. Standing across the cage from Rawlings will be young gun Paige VanZant who will be looking to bounce back from her one-sided loss to Rose Namajunas eight months ago.

Rawlings made her return to the Octagon in March this year with a unanimous decision victory over Seo Hee Ham after being sidelined for the better part of 12 months with a neck injury. Despite the hurdles in her way, Rawlings will be aiming to secure her third win on the trot by taking out one of the biggest names in the division in VanZant and firmly establishing herself as a contender at 115lbs.

VanZant burst onto the UFC scene in late 2014 and was immediately pushed by the promotion as a future star of the strawweight division. Her head first, non-stop fighting style has made her one of the most entertaining fighters on the roster with an offence-hungry style that looks to overwhelm her opponents with everything from head and arm throws to foot stomps.

Most often VanZant’s aggressive offence will be centred around two areas: clinch fighting, and ground fighting. To get to the clinch VanZant will bulrush forward, desperately trying to establish single or double underhooks as she presses her opponent into the cage. From there the Team Alpha Male fighter has a few techniques and strategies that she likes to utilise.

The first strategy is to keep a single underhook on one side of her opponent, and with the other side strike with a myriad of punches, knees, or elbows. The second strategy is to move to the Muay Thai clinch, which she will also go to in the middle of the cage. Once the clinch is established VanZant will look to land heavy knees to the body and head of her opponent. The last strategy, which she has had varying levels of success with, is to take her opponent to the ground via a head and arm throw.

Once the fight is on the ground its all out relentless pressure for VanZant; from top position she will look to posture and rain down as many punches as she can. Many Jiu Jitsu fighters who transition to the UFC initially have problems integrating strikes into their passing game, however  it’s almost the opposite for VanZant, she tends to pass with her punches. That isn’t to say that she doesn’t have a decent Jiu Jitsu game just that she is more so inclined to pass less technically if it means she can focus on hitting her opponent.

In most of her fights in the UFC this has worked; her relentless pressure and aggression has been too much for her opponents to deal with. However the major disadvantage to VanZant’s scrappy style is that she makes a lot of exploitable errors.

In her attempts to rush into the clinch she will generally move in a straight forward line, and is therefore moving into her opponents strikes. Additionally this head-on movement  means that she has trouble cutting off the cage if her opponents move laterally. VanZant’s favourite takedown, the head and arm throw, is also largely considered a dangerous takedown in MMA. This is because if it is not executed perfectly it leaves the back susceptible. Also once the fight is on the ground VanZant’s pressure tactics can be taken advantage of by experienced ground practitioners who can sweep and take dominant positions. This can be seen most evidently in VanZant’s last fight in which Namajunas exploited these technical errors perfectly. Namajunas used VanZant’s own aggression against her and was able to stem the tsunami of offence by achieving positional dominance in most exchanges.

If Rawlings can survive the inevitable onslaught that is synonymous with VanZant, and make her pay for any positional and tactical errors, she will go a long way to earning her highest profile UFC victory to date.

Main Card (on FOX) 12pm AEST:

  • Demian Maia vs. Carlos Condit
  • Anthony Pettis vs. Charles Oliveira
  • Paige VanZant vs. Bec Rawlings
  • Jim Miller vs. Joe Lauzon

Prelims (on FOX) 10am AEST:

  • Sam Alvey vs. Kevin Casey
  • Enrique Barzola vs. Kyle Bochniak
  • Garreth McLellan vs. Alessio Di Chirico
  • Shane Campbell vs. Felipe Silva

Prelims (on UFC Fight Pass) 8.30am AEST:

  • Chad Laprise vs. Thibault Gouti
  • Ryan Janes vs. Adam Hunter
  • Jeremy Kennedy vs. Alex Ricci
Jake Crane is a Melbourne based contributor for Fight News Australia.