Lindsey VanZandt (7-2) recently received one of the biggest opportunities of her young mixed martial arts career. The 26-year-old ‘Damsel’ from Wappingers Falls, New York is giving a rematch to Rena Kubota at RIZIN 20 on New Years Eve, December 31 at the Saitama Super Arena in Japan.
I caught up with this rising atomweight star to talk about her career with both Bellator and Invicta FC, fighting in Japan for RIZIN FF, the rematch, and more.
You defeated Rena at Bellator 222 in June on your turf, Madison Square Garden, the world’s most famous arena. And you did it in spectacular fashion, a first round submission. I was there, we spoke with you backstage following the win and you could see the sense of pride and excitement upon your face as if you had just achieved your life’s biggest goal. What was that win like for you in the days following submitting Rena at MSG?
“It was awesome,” VanZandt said. “There were so many dreams that came true that night, fighting at Madison Square Garden. My whole family was there for the first time. My mom, my dad, my sisters, my aunts, uncles. They didn’t come to any of my fights so this was a big deal. That, and winning against a really amazing fighter that nobody thought I was gonna beat. It was a huge win and I was just on a high for the next couple days. I think I finally came back to reality after about a week. I went right back to training but I was still like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe that happened.’ (laughs)”
You are giving her the rematch, this time in her territory. Some might ask why you are taking the risk given you already have the win over her. Now I know you feel that you already beat her once so you feel you can do it again, but why? What is it about this fight or this card or opportunity that stands out to you?
“They are saying it is a fluke. That sounds stupid in anybody’s opinion though because the way I beat her, that’s the most technical way to win. I took her back and choked her unconscious. I never had a rematch before. I believe that would be a big thing for me to do in my career, win over a top opponent twice in one year, and I get to travel to another country to fight. Right there, those are a couple of things I haven’t done before. I could put them on my résumé. I get more experience and there are a few things I could check off the bucket list I guess you could say (laughs).”
The fight was just announced not long ago. I would imagine there had to be some negotiations going on for a while and that you are not both taking this fight on short notice. How long did you know that this might happen?
“About a month. We’ve been going back and forth for a while. It took about two weeks, maybe longer, for my manager to work out a lot of the fine details. But it took another two weeks for her to agree to elbow (being legal in the fight). She seems to be afraid of elbows. First she wanted the fight at 108-pounds and I said, ‘fine,’ to that. Then she wanted it at 112-pounds because she wanted it to be same as in America and she wanted to try and prove it was a fluke. I was like, ‘Ok, if you want to prove it was a fluke, then why are you questioning if you want elbows or not?’ In that fight there were a lot of elbows. It just took her a while and I just thought that was kind of stupid of her. Especially over there (in Japan) because you can throw soccer kicks and knees to the face on the ground, so it is like ‘What’s an elbow compared to that?'” (laughs)
Is that something you might be afraid of yourself, having never competed over there? Do the soccer kicks worry you? That’s not something you normally train for.
“No, no, yeah. Definitely never trained for that, but obviously training for it now. But I think it fun to do someone else, but definitely don’t want it to be done to me. We’ve just been practicing it, realizing where it could happen, where I can take advantage of those situations as well. It is cool, again I get to cross it off my bucket list that I just soccer kicked a girl in the face. You don’t get to always do something like that. But then again, in the moment, am I going to be able to pull the trigger on that? It feels so wrong because it is illegal here. Hopefully I do not mess up any of the rules in there. It just sounds so brutal. If I’m being mugged on the street and if I have to defend myself I can soccer kick them in the face, or stomp their face in, but that’s life or death. I feel like it’s not a sport. But hey, if she’s allowed to do it to me, and she’ll do it to me, then why not? I’ll do it to her before she can do it to me.”
After the fight announcement was made official, you said, “I hope she knows what she is asking for.” You also said, “the only thing different will be the crowd that see you get your hand raised.” It sounds like you are extremely confident going into this rematch but is there anything that this fight that worries you?
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. I’m going to a different country. I’m just nervous traveling in general. I don’t know the language. I don’t know where I’m going, but I feel fine because both of my coaches that are going with me, have been to Japan. That makes me a little less nervous knowing that they know what they are doing. They are going to help get me prepared for all the changes and I think it is good too because Bellator’s event with RIZIN is a couple days before at the same venue. I’m going to go to that and get a feel for the crowd. This way I won’t be as shocked when I go out to perform that night. I’ll be more than ready. I’m excited. It’s going to be a good experience to test my skills. You should be able to fight whenever, wherever, so she may have used the excuse that ‘oh, she came over here and jetlag and all that,’ but it’s not an excuse in my book. You should be ready whenever. If it was a fight to the death, you would have died.”
Would you consider this to be a short fight camp?
“I’m always training. I’m always ready. I’m never not training. So whenever I get a fight offer, I’m ready to go. It’s just when I have a contract I know who my opponent is and I can work on specific things. For the most part, I’m always working on myself and if I feel better, I’m going to feel more confident in there. I know what my weaknesses are, so I’m always trying to fix my weaknesses.”
You’ve been going back and forth between Bellator and Invicta. While you are flawless with Bellator, you’ve stumbled a little with Invicta, losing two of three bouts there. Is there anything you can pinpoint or attribute those losses to? And what have you learned from them?
“Oh yeah, definitely. I’ve learned a lot from those losses. It sucks that they were both in Invicta. I felt bad and I was glad to finally get a win for them over Shino VanHoose. Especially since I love Invicta so much, I felt bad that I kept losing over there. I was like ‘damn it Lindsey, get it together.’ Everybody has different things going on in their lives. Sometimes it doesn’t work out when you have a fight, but like I said before, ‘there’s no excuses. I should be ready at all times.’ I learn a lot from my mistakes in there, in the cage. I’ve gotten so much better since those losses. Even that last fight I had in August against Jessica Delboni, it was a split decision. People thought I won, I thought I won, but I didn’t. I let it go to the judges and that’s not okay. I don’t like going to decisions. I just believe that you should be able to finish a fight. There were a lot of things going on, but we had a fast turnover, and I should have been ready. It’s my own fault. I’m glad to keep getting as many fights as possible and keep gaining experience. 2020 is going to be the year of the ‘Damsel’ and I’m going to get that Invicta belt.”
As previously mentioned, the fight takes place New Years Eve in Japan. Is this your first visit to Japan? Have you looked up any sights you want to see while there?
“I mean the fight is the best way to bring in the new year in my opinion. But, after the fight, I am definitely gonna have some drinks. I heard the Japanese are big partiers. I don’t know places around there but people from Japan have been giving me some ideas and stuff which I think is cool. I’m getting some tips. My coaches have been there. We’re gonna have a good time. We’ll be there a few days after I win, and also we are going early so we have a week to hang out and see stuff. We’ll be there on Christmas Eve.”
Lastly, you will be there in Japan as the year changes over. Do you have any goals in mind for 2020?
“My main goal is that Invicta belt. I know that I should get a title fight soon for Invicta. I know I had the losses, but they see my performances outside of Invicta as well. They know I’m ready. I’m not sure what Invicta’s plans are yet for this coming year. They might do an atomweight tournament and the winner gets a title shot or who knows what, but I want that next shot.”