Paige VanZant Will Finally Return to Fighting at UFC 251

Paige VanZant at Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Celebrates 2019 Issue Launch At SeaSpice
Paige VanZant at Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Celebrates 2019 Issue Launch At SeaSpice / John Parra/Getty Images

Paige VanZant is one of the UFC's most popular competitors but she's fought sparingly since 2016. She'll make her long-anticipated return to the octagon on July 12 at UFC 251 on "Fight Island" when she faces off with Amanda Ribas in a flyweight bout.

After losing to Michelle Waterson on December 17, 2016 and dropping her record to 7-3, VanZant moved from strawweight to flyweight. She booked a fight against Jessica Eye but pulled out just before the bout with a back injury, while also suffering from a double ear infection and ringworm, among other things. She didn't fight in 2017 at all, then returned in January of 2018 and lost to Jessica Rose-Clark via decision, but she broke her arm in the second round.

VanZant rehabbed the arm for an entire year before finally returning to face Rachael Ostovich on January 19, 2019. She won by submission in the second round and at 8-4 appeared to have jump-started her career. But she fractured her arm again while training to fight Poliana Botelho last April. VanZant had to have surgery after the break failed to heal. Now, she's set to return to the ring 18 months after her last bout.

Despite not fighting much over the past three years, VanZant has remained wildly popular. She has 2.5 million followers on Instagram. She and her husband -- Bellator fighter Austin Vanderford -- update their social media accounts constantly and surely see a tidy revenue stream from it.

The 26-year-old VanZant will face a challenge in Ribas, who is 9-1 and on a four-fight win streak. It will an incredibly difficult fight, especially after such a long layoff.

It's the last fight on VanZant's UFC contract. While she claims she wants to sign a new deal, she also said she's willing to test her value in free agency. She could also be a prime candidate for professional wrestling given her athleticism and crossover appeal. Regardless, a win over Ribas would put her in prime negotiating position.