On just one week’s notice, Jessica Andrade has stepped in for Saturday’s UFC Fight Night main event against rising women’s flyweight prospect Erin Blanchfield (ESPN+, 7 p.m. ET main card, prelims at 4 p.m.).
Andrade (24-9), a former strawweight champion and one-time flyweight title challenger, is replacing Taila Santos and is looking to work her way back up to another shot at reigning champion Valentina Shevchenko. Andrade lost to Shevchenko at UFC 261 in April 2021.
Blanchfield (10-1) is undefeated in her four Octagon appearances, and her past two wins came via submission over JJ Aldrich and Molly McCann, respectively. While this is yet another striker vs. grappler matchup, fans should be prepared for fireworks as both fighters bring energy and natural finishing ability.
Former UFC women’s featherweight title challenger and current ESPN MMA analyst Megan Anderson breaks down what makes both of these fighters so dangerous and what fans should watch for in this weekend’s main event.
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 in ESPN’s divisional rankings, was initially set to face Santos, ranked No. 8. But due to visa issues for Santos’ team, she withdrew. Instead, Blanchfield must now take on an even bigger challenge as she fights ESPN’s No. 2-ranked women’s flyweight.
In Andrade, Blanchfield will be taking on someone who has been a UFC standout since her debut in 2013. And, likely, a future inductee in the UFC Hall of Fame. The fact that Andrade is stepping up for this fight on a week’s notice proves that she is a fighter’s fighter.
For Andrade, this is about cementing her standing among the division’s top contenders. She has to have a chip on her shoulder, entering a fight with an unranked opponent. She is so close to another shot at Shevchenko, and I’m certain Andrade doesn’t believe she’s the same fighter who lost to the champ in 2021.
For Blanchfield, this is about taking the next step. She is skipping over so many talented fighters for this opportunity — her first main event with the promotion in just her fifth appearance inside 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 the promotion sees potential in Blanchfield and wants to see her in a title fight soon, or the matchmakers are throwing her to the wolves to see how she stacks up against the division’s elite. If she loses, the promotion can scale her back and allow her to rebuild herself into title contention. This fight will tell us everything we need to know.
There aren’t a lot of clear-cut contenders in the women’s flyweight division because of Shevchenko’s dominance. With Andrade on an impressive win streak and Blanchfield being the biggest prospect in the division, this weekend’s winner would validate her standing. No matter who wins this fight, I think the fans will be surprised by either Andrade’s incredible power or Blanchfield’s skills on the mat.
Andrade has fight-changing power
There aren’t many women in the sport who possess the type of power that Andrade has. Because of that, she brings a real danger factor into every fight. Andrade is like a bulldozer. She just keeps pushing forward, applying constant pressure. She doesn’t allow opponents to breathe. And she combines that with her physicality to make for a tough matchup — she messes people up.
Andrade doesn’t throw many straight punches, which could play in Blanchfield’s favor when she counters. But she throws a lot of big hooks, which could do a lot of damage. Andrade is the type of fighter who is so confident in her ability and power that it takes a lot for someone to earn her respect and force her to slow down on her forward pressure.
The problem for the division is that few people bring the danger factor that can earn Andrade’s respect. That doesn’t just mean having powerful strikes, though — it could be control of range, grappling or something else. In the title fight with Shevchenko, the champion’s range and wrestling were enough to alter Andrade’s game plan.
Blanchfield could be the next UFC women’s phenom
I’ve been watching Blanchfield for a long time. I called her fights when she started as a pro with Invicta FC. But her name generated buzz 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 tell that her ceiling in MMA was incredibly high. Since then, she has leaned into learning the striking game.
That investment in striking is paying off. She has become what you would want to see in a modern-day grappling expert in MMA. While grappling is her bread and butter, she has surprising skills when fighting on her feet.
Still, Blanchfield’s grappling sets her apart from others in the division. It’s the type of danger factor that could make Andrade alter her game plan. Blanchfield’s ability to trap 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 in a row, including a victory over ranked opponents at flyweight and strawweight. The bigger question would be, who’s title would she contend for next — Shevchenko or Zhang Weili?
For Blanchfield, a win would validate her among both fans and critics, and it would likely also earn her a spot near the top of the women’s flyweight rankings. But even though a win would be significant for her, I think the UFC would have her fight another top contender before giving her a shot at the title — maybe Manon Fiorot or rescheduling Taila Santos.