UFC Vegas 69: Andrade Takes Big Gamble in Stepping In Against Upstart Blanchfield

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - FEBRUARY 17: (L-R) Jessica Andrade of Brazil and Erin Blanchfield face off during the UFC Fight Night weigh-in at UFC APEX on February 17, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Former champion Jessica Andrade puts her spot in the strawweight rankings on the line as she moves up in weight on one week’s notice to take on top super prospect Erin Blanchfield at UFC Vegas 69.

The business of sports, particularly combat sports, can be counter-intuitive at times.  Having an “anyone, anywhere, anytime” mentality is respected and celebrated by fans and peers alike, but it comes into direct conflict with the smart business mentality of doing what’s best for your own career.  Jessica Andrade is in such a position right now.  With a title shot seemingly already in hand, “Bate Estaca” is stepping in on one week’s notice to save the day against arguably the top young prospect in the sport.

Survey the strawweight landscape and the most obvious choices for champion Zhang Weili are either coming off losses or have been defeated in 2022 by Andrade.  This makes her decision to step in a huge gamble on herself.  Consider, Andrade had a banner 2022 with a first round stoppage of Amanda Lemos and in January moved up back up in weight and dominated former title challenger Lauren Murphy.  Coming off that showcase in her native Brazil, Andrade could deliver an encore that puts more pressure on Zhang to take the rematch or find herself greatly regretting the decision to help the show go on.

The UFC has seen many young prospects poised to leap into title contention over the years, but only Jon Jones has ever reached championship gold in the modern era of the promotion under the age of 25.  At 23 years-old and with a 10-1 record, Erin Blanchfield is the latest upstart to have been pushed to the top of her weight class and has inspired the belief that she could finally be the next to become the proverbial “next big thing” in MMA.  It should not be forgotten that while she is getting a former champion and current top contender at strawweight, Blanchfield was set to fight the flyweight who pushed reigning queen Valentina Shevchenko to her limit in Taila Santos prior to the opponent change.

A young competitor who saw opportunities in the post-Ronda Rousey boom in women’s MMA, Blanchfield’s pre-UFC resume has seen her record victories over the likes of Kay Hansen and recent Ultimate Fighter finalist Brogan Walker.  After joining the promotion in 2021, Blanchfield continued her winning ways in besting fellow prospect Miranda Maverick and veteran JJ Aldrich.  In November, she recorded the biggest victory of her career in throttling English standout Molly McCann in the first round.  Still only 23 year-old entering her first UFC headliner, it is still widely expected that Blanchfield could find herself in a title eliminator or possibly even a title shot in her next outing should she look impressive.

While the big fight experience is heavily in favor of the former champion, she will give up height, reach, and size after rehydration to her opponent.  While that is not unusual, she does so on one week’s notice which raises questions about her conditioning and effectiveness should the fight go long.  Blanchfield’s powerful top control is both her biggest weapon and most efficient route to victory as getting the fight to the mat gives her both her best advantage and removes the threat of Andrade’s explosive striking.  Andrade is expected to attack the legs and body of Blanchfield to hamper her mobility and create the best opportunities to do heavy damage early as to avoid a long fight on short notice.

An Andrade victory would virtually guarantee a title shot at strawweight, but it is not out of the question that she would also be on the short list at flyweight as well when surveying the landscape and particularly if Shevchenko suffers an upset next month.  For Blanchfield, a victory over Andrade on short notice might not be as heralded as it might have been over Santos, but there’s no question that Blanchfield would be poised for a title eliminator over a contender like Manon Fiorot or possibly even a title shot depending on how the next several months play out.