Paige VanZant had so much faith in husband Austin Vanderford that she accepted a match with Jake Shields at Submission Underground before he even had a chance to say yes.
Austin Vanderford will be making his sophomore trip to the Bellator cage this weekend at Bellator 225. It’s a big show in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and Vanderford, an undefeated welterweight, is ready to build off what he started in his first Bellator outing.
That came by way of an arm-triangle choke, just prior to the end of the first round at Bellator 215 in February. Coming at 4:49 of the round, it was something of a buzzer beater. Speaking to Cageside Press ahead of his return, Vanderford said that he was happy with the win — but “of course you always take things away.”
“I always look at my fights and I try to take away the things I need to improve on more than what I did good and whatnot. So of course there were some things that I felt like I could work on and improve on afterward,” he explained. That said, “it’s tough to be unhappy with a first round finish.”
“All in all, I was extremely happy.” As he no doubt should be.
Jack of all Trades
If you take a glance at Austin Vanderford’s record thus far, it becomes clear that he’s something of a jack of all trades. Vanderford agreed with that analysis. “It’s MMA, and I pride myself on trying to be the best martial artist that I can be. I truly enjoy getting better and learning all the different martial arts and then applying them to the fights,” he told us. “I love jiu-jitsu, of course I’ve got my wrestling background, I love wrestling, but I love to box, I love Muay Thai, and I love striking and all that.”
That mindset is something he takes with him when training. “I wouldn’t say so far in my career, I’ve ever been preparing for a fight and thought ‘I’m just going to focus specifically on this,'” he said. “To me it’s about getting better in each aspect of fighting. Even working off my back, and jiu-jitsu off my back, being a wrestler, we’re not supposed to go to our backs, but I’m still trying to get better at doing that. I think that’s where that comes from.”
Back in May, Vanderford stepped away from the cage for a chance to compete at Submission Underground 8. His opponent? None other than Jake Shields, one of the most effective grapplers in MMA over the years. The match went into three overtime periods, and eventually, Shields won. However, going that distance with Shields is impressive.
Speaking about the experience, Vanderford told us that “that was Uncle Chael’s [Chael Sonnen] card, I’ve got a good relationship with him. He’s a good friend.”
“I knew he had a card coming up, and of course my wife [Paige VanZant], she’s somewhat a promoter for me herself. She had dropped my name to him and wanted me to compete in that,” Vanderford recalled. “I think Chael came back with ‘well we have Jake Shields,’ and she’s like ‘yup he’ll take it, he’s doing it,’ so before I even had the chance to say yes, she got me signed up for it. But that just goes to her belief in me and my skills. It was definitely such an awesome opportunity.”
“I had a great match, and a good fun match with [Shields],” he finished. “I think in the sport that we do, competition no matter what is going to help us. I just saw it as a way to get better.”
The Business Side of Things
The fact that Vanderford is married to UFC star VanZant has been covered to death, but it’s also somewhat hard to avoid. She’s a constant presence at his fights, and the pair train together. There’s also the added benefit she brings in terms of knowledge, including on the business side of things.
As Vanderford pointed out, “she’s been fighting twice as long as I have. I wrestled through college, and kind of got started a little bit later. That’s one of the important parts of our dynamic, as far as for me, is being able to have someone who’s been there, done that, competed on the highest level, and she can really help me out.”
There are other factors also. “She’s trained all over the world as well. In fighting, there’s a lot that can be said of being confident. Not too confident, to the point where you’re cocky, but having that confidence in yourself and your skill set.”
“I would say she’s probably the number one contributor to me as far as being confident in my skills.”
The Contender Series Snub
“I’m a man of faith, and I believe things happen for a reason,” said Austin Vanderford when asked about his appearance on Dana White’s Contender Series. While he’s got a good home in Bellator MMA, Vanderford was in the spotlight last year on the Contender Series. He won. He won via a submission. And he didn’t get a contract. That came as a shock to many, given his association with one of the UFC’s darlings in Paige VanZant. However, he’s found a silver lining.
“I truly believe that that whole situation created something better for me,” Vanderford explained. “It put me in a situation that I could flourish in even more than the opportunity that I guess I missed out on for whatever reason.” He’s happy in Bellator, he said, adding “if you haven’t been to a Bellator fight, and you haven’t fought for Bellator, it is such an amazing production and experience.”
“Bellator does things definitely that separates them from the rest,” he continued. “Even the grand prix, you wonder why more of these promotions don’t do this. Because it’s such an exciting and fun tournament. You’ve got some of these other promotions who are trying to figure out who’s supposed to fight who, and we’re trying to figure out who the best guy in the world is. I come from a wrestling background, in wrestling when you want to find out who the best guy is, you set them up in a bracket. You let them fight, or wrestle it out. And that’s exactly what Bellator is doing. I think they have the right idea for sure.”
Training for Douglas Usher
At Bellator 225, Vanderford will be taking on Douglas Usher, who enters the night on a six fight win streak outside the promotion — five of those coming by KO/TKO. That hasn’t changed anything in terms of Austin Vanderford’s preparation, however.
“I’m focusing on me, and being the best version of me possible,” he said ahead of the fight. “Of course I have very smart people around me, and smart coaches, and I let them really take over the game planning and all that, and then we implement it in practice and sparring.”
“For me it’s just sticking to what I know. And what you touched on earlier, being a jack of all trades, and being ready for whatever,” he added. “Because when you go out there and fight, you never know what the opponent’s going to bring, or what they’ve been working on or game planning on. So for me, it’s just being the best Austin Vanderford.”
Vanderford vs. Usher takes place on the preliminary portion of Bellator 225 on Saturday, August 24 at the Webstar Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The prelims can be viewed right here on Cageside Press and via the Bellator app!
Note: An injury to Usher resulted in Vanderford facing Joseph Creer instead at Bellator 225.