There’s no way around it: UFC Vegas 69 is a bad card.
That said, it also has one of the most intriguing Fighty Night main events that I can remember in quite some time. Former strawweight champion Jessica Andrade agreed to step in for an injured Taila Santos about a week before the event. She didn’t ask to make the fight a catchweight. She didn’t ask for the fight to be limited to three rounds. She just accepted the fight against Erin Blanchfield as is. Does Andrade know something we don’t? Or is it just overconfidence? Then again, Andrade is as scary of an opponent as there is in women’s MMA. Does Blanchfield know something we don’t? Plus, what are the stakes of this contest? The lack of definitive answers with regards to anything in this contest makes me very interested in this contest, even if the rest of the card is lacking.
Jessica Andrade vs. Erin Blanchfield, Women’s Flyweight
Let it be said that Andrade is one of the all-time badasses in MMA. Not just women’s MMA, MMA in general. I know there’s a lot of people who are jumping all over her as the pick in this contest given her name recognition in comparison to Blanchfield, but this is a risky contest for her. The gain for her in beating Blanchfield is minimal, especially if Andrade continues to eyeball Weili Zhang for the strawweight title. Is her goal just to eliminate anyone who might be circling the champions in both the strawweight and flyweight divisions? I think it’s fair to question the intelligence of taking this fight, but I will never question her guts. Flat out, she’s a badass.
Though I stated those who tend to do minimal homework are going to jump all over Andrade off the back, there’s plenty of reason to believe she’s still the right pick if we’ve dug into the contest. Given her unique nature, she’s difficult to prepare for on a full camp. Blanchfield had a week. With a bowling ball frame, Andrade presents a small target to pursue. She also has an unnaturally deep gas tank, pursuing her opponent with nonstop pressure from bell to bell. Only the toughest have been able to withstand her barrage of punches, but they usually have more than their share of wear at the end of their fight. Just ask Lauren Murphy about it.
However, there are limitations to Andrade’s attack as well. It’s been proven that a technician can outpoint her. Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Rose Namajunas were able to largely keep her on the outside and piece her up with kicks and jabs. Granted, while Blanchfield’s striking is developing, it is nowhere near the levels of Jedrzejczyk and Namajunas. Not even having a greater reach than either of those ladies is likely to prove beneficial to Blanchfield. Anyone remember how Andrade made that a moot point against Katlyn Chookagian? Blanchfield looks the part on the feet, but she doesn’t have the feel needed to pick apart the eternally aggressive Andrade.
What Blanchfield does have on her side is the grappling to make Andrade look a fool… provided she can get the fight to the mat. At the tender age of 23, a reasonable case could be made that Blanchfield is the best pure grappler in the division. A supreme technician with a nifty combination of physicality and athleticism, Blanchfield has proven to be dominant when she can put her opponent on their back. Doing that has been a bit of a mixed bag, but Blanchfield’s wrestling is much further along than her striking.
Given how easily Valentina Shevchenko dismantled Andrade just two years ago, it isn’t impossible to see Blanchfield having the same type of success. After all, Blanchfield secured her last victory with the same type of crucifix stoppage on Molly McCann that Shevchenko used to stop Andrade. On the flip side, there’s those of us who remember Blanchfield struggling on the feet with JJ Aldrich. Aldrich is an underrated technician, but she doesn’t come close to matching the power and aggression of Andrade. Andrade isn’t a bum on the mat, but it’s difficult for me to see winning the mat battle outside of securing a club and sub.
I’ve been a huge backer of Blanchfield. I firmly believe she’s going to be a champion someday. However, I can’t help but wonder if this would be too much, too soon. Put this fight together two or three years from now and I’m picking Blanchfield without hesitation. As it is, going from fighting the likes of Aldrich and McCann to Andrade is a HUGE step up. I’m not convinced she’s ready for it. However, I also sense a degree of overconfidence in Andrade. Taking a fight with a methodical tactician like Blanchfield without any concessions less than a month after her last fight? Andrade absolutely can win this, but that’s a big ask. I have no confidence picking either way. I’ll put money where my mouth is with regards to how much I’ve been hyping Blanchfield and pick her, but I’m only declaring it a bump in the road if Andrade gets the win. Blanchfield via submission of RD3
- Several have postulated Jordan Wright might be better off fighting at 205 as opposed to 185. After all, no one denies Wright has punching power and an explosive burst. What he doesn’t have is a gas tank, only going past the halfway mark of the second round for the first time in his last fight. However, he lost that contest because he gassed out. Perhaps not cutting so much weight will allow him to remain effective deeper into his contests. Zac Pauga is also moving into the light heavyweight division, but he’s coming from the opposite end, dropping the heavyweight finals on the most recent edition of TUF. A former NFL player, Pauga is less than three years into his professional MMA career. In other words, he’s extremely inexperienced. Pauga has displayed a solid base in both his wrestling and his striking, but he’s a long way from being a polished product. He is at the stage where he is making large strides from fight to fight, but there’s also the question of how he’ll respond to being KO’d cold for the first time. Some fighters respond as if it was nothing, others are never the same. Wright is likely to test Pauga’s chin early. I’m not sure Pauga will know how to respond to Wright’s early assault before Wright tires out. Wright via KO of RD1
- Why the hell does the UFC have to put low level heavyweight contests on the main card every damn time? I realize I’m being disrespectful towards Josh Parisian and Jamal Pogues, but the UFC’s love affair of highlighting heavyweight’s is frustrating as hell. That said, I’ll admit that Parisian is one of the more fun heavyweights in the bottom half of the division. Despite having one of the larger frames in the organization, he has a love of spinning attacks and a deeper than expected gas tank. Pogues is much more of a mystery. A former light heavyweight, he was expected to return to that division after receiving a contract via DWCS. Instead, it looks like he’s making heavyweight his permanent home. Is that an indication of a lack of discipline? Hard to say without having more intimate details. As it is, Pogues is used to being the bigger man at 205, utilizing his reach and securing a steady diet of takedowns. How he deals with the bigger Parisian is a major curiosity. Then again, Parisian’s takedown defense has been poor. Throw in Pogues is a far superior athlete and I’ll pick the newcomer to get the job done, though with some hesitancy. Pogues via decision
- I really want to like William Knight as a fighter. With plentiful power and durability, along with an unrefined style, Knight has all the pieces to be a fan favorite action fighter. If he were to begin taking a disciplined approach, he might even be able to climb into the top ten. Of course, he does have a major Achilles heel; his ground game. Knight can hit some takedowns and is a handful from the top when he’s delivering his heavy GnP, but everything else is a mess. Fortunately for Knight, Marcin Prachnio isn’t known for his ground game. In fact, Prachnio has yet to secure a takedown in his six UFC contests. Prachnio is a rarity in that he’s a finesse fighter in one of the larger divisions, opting to stay on the outside and pick his shots. Prachnio has suffered from some major brain farts, but he typically has a solid understanding of distance and angles. However, he also has a questionable chin and will be at a major athletic disadvantage against Knight. Provided Knight fights a semi-smart fight, he should be able to catch Prachnio. If Prachnio had any semblance of a takedown game, I’d favor the Pole. Given he doesn’t, I’m ever so shakily leaning towards Knight to find some way to make good use of his earth-shattering power at some point. Knight via KO of RD1
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