Paige VanZant brought a bit of her world as an Ultimate Fighting Championship competitor to her appearance Monday on ABC's "Dancing With the Stars," again impressing the judges with her performance on a wooden dance floor surrounded by a UFC-like octagon cage.
VanZant's partner, Mark Ballas, returned Saturday from a lower-back injury that caused him to miss her perfect Week 2 scores dancing the salsa with a replacement partner, and suggested the UFC theme.
Ballas was all in, dancing shirtless, his chest adorned with a copy of UFC featherweight champion Conor McGregor's wing tattoo.
Dancing the paso doble with Ballas, Van Zant soared from a punching pose into dancing moves midway through the number, then closed by mockingly throwing a combination of punches toward Ballas, "flooring" him with a powerful right and raising her arms in triumph to raucous applause.
"Felt really good about how everything went," VanZant told The Times in a telephone interview Tuesday while she awaits fan voting. "I didn't even know it was an option, that they'd let me have an octagon in the set. Turned out well …
"The most difficult part with the paso doble was the form and the shape, supposed to be real specific .… I had never done it before .… a lot of that was new to me and my body. And then dancing [in practice] with someone different until Saturday … ."
The judges awarded VanZant two perfect 8's on Monday's show, with judge Len Goodman providing a 7 and critiquing, "It's a wonderful performance … for me, it didn't look like a paso doble."
Judge Bruno Tonioli countered, "For me, I felt like I was watching Wonder Woman!" telling Ballas, "She kicked your [rear]. You've got to watch her. I've got a feeling you've got a winner on your hands .… I love the power, love the energy."
And judge Carrie Ann Anaba said she "disagreed with Len," and praised VanZant's "badass," "innovative" routine.
VanZant said Ballas "wants to be the one dancing with me," as she does.
"I just want him to take care of himself," she said. "As with any back injury, it's not anything you take lightly. I'm not sure he knows exactly what's wrong with him. So he needs to take care of his body. This is his career. For me, it's just having fun. I love dancing with him. I just feel for him. Poor guy, I don't want him injured. Any back injury is scary."
VanZant's showing provides positive momentum going as the popular show moves forward.
"I'm just enjoying the process. I love being part of the show," VanZant said. "It's really cool to be on this platform, especially to dance in the cage. I got to show off MMA."
Former UFC light-heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell, who formerly competed on "DWTS" was in attendance Monday, and VanZant received praise in pre-dance interviews from UFC President Dana White and her training-camp operator, bantamweight title contender Urijah Faber.
Additionally, VanZant said she has struck a good rapport with Kim Fields of "Facts of Life" fame, and has even taken to watching reruns of the show to enhance their bond.