At 5'4'' and 125 pounds, Paige VanZant is about the size of the average ballerina. But she's no Sugar Plum Fairy. She'll take you down — and get paid good money to do it.
VanZant — a.k.a. "12-Gauge" — is a professional fighter in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), and her nickname pretty much says it all.
"I like punching people in the face," VanZant tells CNBC. "Our body is our tool — it's our weapon."
After years of training as a hobby, VanZant got an offer to turn pro, and she took it. "I was working as a bank teller and I got offered the pro fight. [My boss] said I couldn't have time off, but I took the time off anyway and took the fight," she explains. "Then I was fired."
It was a career move that paid off. VanZant is now a rising star and fan favorite in the UFC.
"A lot of people are surprised when they find out I'm a fighter," VanZant says. "I think girls can do absolutely anything they want to. There shouldn't be this stigma behind you to be 'manly' to be a fighter. You just have to want to fight."
Of course, VanZant does get paid for all the blood, sweat, and well, more blood. Her total UFC haul so far is reportedly more than $383,000 over 11 fights, including some huge rewards for her ruthless fighting style.
She received a $50,000 bonus for Fight of the Night and another $50,000 for Knockout of the Night during her UFC debut. "It really was the biggest thing that changed my life. After I won that fight, I went from not being able to afford gas to getting a $50,000 bonus."
But it was VanZant's fourth UFC fight, one that she lost, that really sent her career and bank account to new heights.
"My eye got cut open and I was bleeding profusely everywhere," VanZant recalls. "That's where I really got noticed. I got more fans off of that fight than my opponent did, and she won. But because of that, I got 'Dancing with the Stars.'"
VanZant dominated on the dance floor, too. She finished in second place and earned a reported $345,000 along the way. Her business sense has also helped her land endorsement deals with Reebok, Monster Energy Drinks, Metro PCS and Harley-Davidson.
"The thing with fighting is you never know how long you have in the career. I could get hurt and never fight again. It's all about setting yourself up for the successes outside of the cage as well."
Paige VanZant is one opponent you don't want to underestimate.
—CNBC's Melissa Lustrin, Erica Wright and Christopher DiLella contributed to this report.
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