Can Erin Blanchfield’s elite grappling overcome Jessica Andrade’s striking power?

With just a week’s notice, Jessica Andrade has stepped in for Saturday’s UFC Fight Night main event against up-and-coming flyweight Erin Blanchfield (ESPN+, main card at 7pm ET, prelims at 4pm).

Andrade (24-9), a former strawweight champion and one-time flyweight title challenger, replaces Taila Santos and attempts to work her way up to another shot at reigning champion Valentina Shevchenko. Andrade lost to Shevchenko in April 2021 at UFC 261.

Blanchfield (10-1) is undefeated in her four Octagon appearances and her last two wins have come by assist over JJ Aldrich and Molly McCann respectively. While this is another forward vs. grappler duel, fans should brace themselves for some fireworks as both fighters bring energy and natural finishing skills.

Megan Anderson, former UFC women’s featherweight title challenger and current ESPN MMA analyst, explains what makes these two fighters so dangerous and what fans should be aware of at this weekend’s main event.

The duel

This fight is so exciting. It pits Andrade, a pillar in the women’s UFC community, against one of the fastest rising prospects in the division. No doubt this will be a big test for Blanchfield.

Blanchfeild, who is not yet ranked by ESPN divisions, was originally scheduled to face No. 8 Santos. However, she withdrew due to visa issues for Santos’ team. Instead, Blanchfield now faces an even bigger challenge when she fights ESPN’s No. 2 women’s flyweight.

In Andrade, Blanchfield will face someone who has been a standout in the UFC since their debut in 2013. And likely future induction into the UFC Hall of Fame. The fact that Andrade is stepping up for this fight within a week proves that she is a fighter.

For Andrade, it’s all about solidifying her position among the top contenders in the division. She must have a chip on her shoulder to enter a fight with an unranked opponent. She’s so close to another shot at Shevchenko and I’m sure Andrade doesn’t think she’s the same fighter who lost to the champ in 2021.

For Blanchfield, it’s about taking the next step. She skips so many talented fighters for this opportunity – her first main event with promotion in her fifth appearance in the Octagon. This fight is a massive spotlight for her; rarely do we see a fighter who doesn’t have a large following get a main event within their first five UFC fights. Which could mean one of two things for the UFC: either promotion sees potential in Blanchfield and wants to see her in a title shot soon, or the matchmakers throw her to the Wolves to see how she fares against the division’s elite. If she loses, the promotion can push her back and allow her to get back into the title fight. This fight will tell us everything we need to know.

Because of Shevchenko’s dominance, there aren’t many clear contenders in the women’s flyweight division. With Andrade on an impressive winning streak and Blanchfield the biggest prospect in the division, this weekend’s winner would confirm her standing. No matter who wins this fight, I think fans will be amazed by either Andrade’s incredible power or Blanchfield’s ability on the mat.

Andrade has battle-altering power

There aren’t many women in the sport who have the kind of power that Andrade has. This brings a real danger factor into every fight. Andrade is like a bulldozer. She just keeps pushing and applying constant pressure. She doesn’t let opponents breathe. And she combines that with her physicality to create a tough duel – she messes people up.

Andrade doesn’t throw many straight shots, which could play in Blanchfield’s favor if she counters. But she throws a lot of big hooks that can do a lot of damage. Andrade is the type of fighter who is so confident in her skills and her power that it takes a lot for someone to earn her respect and force her to slow down her forward push.

The problem for the division is that few people bring with them the danger factor that can earn Andrades respect. That doesn’t just mean having powerful shots though – it could be control of the range, grappling, or something else. In the title fight with Shevchenko, the champion’s reach and wrestling was enough to change Andrade’s game plan.

Blanchfield could be the next UFC women’s phenomenon

I’ve been watching Blanchfield for a long time. I called her fights when she started pro at Invicta FC. But her name caused quite a stir before her pro debut because of her elite grappling skills.

Blanchfield is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu prodigy. She won the flyweight grappling title at the Eddie Bravo Invitational when she was just 18 years old. At such a young age, people could see that their ceiling was incredibly high in MMA. Since then, she has focused on learning the batting game.

This investment in strikes is paying off. She has become what one would wish for in a modern grappling expert in MMA. While grappling is her bread and butter, she has surprising abilities when fighting on her feet.

Still, their struggle sets Blanchfield apart from others in the division. It’s the kind of danger factor that could make Andrade change her game plan. Blanchfield’s ability to catch and control her opponents while maintaining a ground-and-pound or submission threat is rare.

What a win means

Simply put, a win for Andrade would justify a title shot. It would be her fourth straight, including a win over ranked flyweight and strawweight opponents. The bigger question would be which title would she fight for next – Shevchenko or Zhang Weili?

For Blanchfield, a win would validate her with fans and critics alike, and likely earn her a spot near the top of the women’s flyweight rankings as well. But while a win would matter to her, I think the UFC would let her fight another top contender before giving her a shot at the title – maybe Manon Fiorot or the postponement of Taila Santos. Can Erin Blanchfield’s elite grappling overcome Jessica Andrade’s striking power?

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