American Top Team boxing coach Gabriel de Oliveira is one of the men responsible for getting former UFC star Paige VanZant ready for a new challenge in her professional career, a transition to the bare-knuckle boxing ring after a long run in MMA.
Son of 1968 Olympic bronze medalist Servilio de Oliveira, who went 19-0 as a professional boxer between 1969 and 1977, Gabriel trains a long list of MMA fighters over at ATT in Florida, including Marlon Moraes, Thiago Santos, Edson Barboza, Santiago Ponzinibbio and Renato Moicano.
De Oliveira, who trained the Brazilian boxing team at the 2004 Olympics, is also getting former UFC welterweight contender Thiago Alves set for his own bare-knuckle boxing debut versus Phil Baroni on Sept. 19. He admits Alves’ transition to the squared ring is “less difficult” than VanZant’s due to his background in muay Thai.
VanZant inked a deal with Bare Knuckle Fighting Championships after completing her UFC contract in July, but only two of her MMA wins came by way of knockout. That said, de Oliveira guarantees “12 Gauge” will be prepared when she finally makes her bare-knuckle boxing debut.
“We’ll have more time to work with Paige, because she will only fight in November or early next year – we don’t have the date set yet – but we’ve already seen how she moves,” de Oliveira said in an interview with MMA Fighting. “She’s not totally raw. We’ll have to work, add some concepts and change a few concepts she’s carrying over, but I think it’s going to be a smooth transition.
“The most important is that she’s willing to do it. One cool thing about her is that we say something and she does it, she wants to learn, she’s thirsty for knowledge. Some other athletes we eventually work with, when we say something they go, ‘Oh, no, not that, I don’t want,’ you know? ‘I want my way, this is my way.’ She’s not like that, she understands she has to adapt and make some changes in order to do well in this new sport.”
Even though bare-knuckle boxing has resurfaced as a player in the market, de Oliveira says that training athletes for those type of matches is “less difficult” than working on a fighter’s boxing for MMA bout because there are no kicks or takedowns involved.
VanZant is also training with Dustin Poirier’s boxing coach Dyah Davis at American Top Team. Davis holds a boxing record of 25-4-1, and like de Oliveira, he’s the son of an Olympian, 1976 gold medalist Howard Davis Jr.
“I was happy that she came here because, even though she’s new to this sport, she’s a big name in combat sports and adds a lot to the team,” de Oliveira said. “It’s a big challenge for her and for us, transferring her to this sport, to this focus, because that’s really new for her. She’s not a boxer, so we’ll have to focus on that.”
BKFC has yet to announce a date and opponent for VanZant’s first match. Speaking with MMA Fighting earlier this month, VanZant said “it was the opportunity I was excited about.”
“I’ve been a fan of their sport and it’s something that I’m really going to be able to show off my striking,” she said. “If you look at my MMA career, my biggest downfall has been my jiu-jitsu and my striking has been my passion. I’m so excited to show that off.”