The Severe Spotlight: Erin Blanchfield

Progression in fighters as they move through the various stages of their UFC career is always exciting, mostly due to its rarity. From rookie, to early prospect to prospect, to breaking the rankings, a rise through the rankings to a contender, to then an eventual title challenger and possible champion. Each rung of that ladder is laden with sandpaper, the rusks of blood, sweat and skin of attempts gone before.  

In her 6:37 of action on Saturday night, Erin Blanchfield felt her way to the cold, hard metal of the final rungs of that ladder. The rungs of the ladder that few manage to reach. She dominated the immediate exchange, refusing Andrade a glove touch. Cold blooded.

Inside the first 25 seconds of the fight, she had laid all the foundations of her gameplan with precision. She crowded Jessica Andrade, she punished her for any naked low kicks with straight shots, she watched Andrade’s footwork and punished her missteps with low kicks of her own. She baited Andrade into throwing big after landing her own shots, moved her head, and faded away from the pocket or better still, sitting nicely into her legs landing a crisp 1-2.

Eyes wide, another 1-2 stamps onto the Andrade chin. Once again proving that straight shots beat hooks, for speed and for effectiveness at stifling naked hooks. A clean level change brings Blanchfield into the clinch around the minute mark, she pushes Andrade back toward the cage, looking for the takedown, but not committing.  Inside a minute of the fight Blanchfield has established:

  • Dominance in the range and the footwork
  • Dominance in the initial striking exchanges with her straight shots
  • Forced Andrade to consider that takedowns are coming at any point.
  • Crowded Andrade and happily gone toe to toe in the pocket with the biggest puncher in the division.
  • Punished Andrade for any naked low kicks.
  • Found the timing of the Andrade wind ups, countering and punishing her for them.

2:30 in and Blanchfield is cruising, punctuated by yet another step in 1-2 as punishment for Andrade throwing a naked low kick. The step-in does multiple things; it increases the power of the right hand landing, it forced the low kick to ride higher toward the groin than its intended target of the meat of the thigh, and crowds Andrade who is now forced into taking a clinch, or backing away which in turn would give Blanchfield chances to strike. Instead, Blanchfield takes the initiative and angles off, ducking her way out of the left-hand door, seeing the counter from Andrade slice the air in front of her. She uses that angle to force Andrade to square up, immediately in danger of a continued assault.

The shot selection, and the cerebral, focussed watching of the body movements of Andrade to then counter is fascinating. Almost halfway through the round Andrade advances with an overhand right. Blanchfield partially blocks and returns with a stiff right hand. Andrade ducks out of the pocket and begins to circle. Not happy with her work Blanchfield chases with a few follow ups, causing Andrade to square her own stance as she tries to counter. Blanchfield not only evades the shot ducking to her right but still finds her left jab a new home on the chin of Andrade at an awkward angle.

To produce a striking display like this, against a striker like Andrade cannot be understated.

The round turns as Andrade lands a right hand and senses the body language of Blanchfield change. Blanchfield begins to back up, at an angle but with her hands high and wide and not with enough aggression. Andrade chases with a stream of left hooks, 3 catching Blanchfield on the jaw. Blanchfield finds her way to the clinch but doesn’t look the same in the final stanza.

It feels as in those final two minutes and change, that Blanchfield is highly tactically aware of the Andrade power and as a result the effervescent beam of focus mellows. She is attempting the same things, but whether due to the effectiveness of the shots from Andrade or the diminished focus, she looks more sloppy.

The range is a few inches off, her footwork not as crisp. The counters are not finding the chin of Andrade but the shoulder. They are not coming at the same timing and Andrade finds her angle off and some beautiful under the arm uppercuts. The intent of the Blanchfield work is still the same, but the conviction feels like its off.

With 55 seconds on the clock, Blanchfield moves into the pocket to land a right hand, but doesn’t do so with the conviction of previous exchanges and finds one of the aforementioned under the arm uppercuts. A loose clinch exchange occurs, but both women are throwing shots that they think should be there, situationally instead of being present in the moment and finding the shots that are there. For Blanchfield this is a stark contract to the awkward left hand she lands two minutes and change prior.

The round ends with Blanchfield working hard for a takedown, rolling through sequences, Andrade doing a great job of keeping her balance, finding her underhook and post and pivoting off to the outside.

The second round began with Blanchfield coming out with the same focussed energy. A couple of remnants of the mistakes at the end of the first round. But for the majority, the footwork is back to where it was, and the range control is stellar.

3:48 on the clock Blanchfield times a level change wonderfully. Blanchfield has angled off from a striking exchange, Andrade follows looking for an overhand right – as its thrown the level changes and Blanchfield finds an over-under grip set. Andrade opts to look for a second underhook rather than hip posting and angles off to get it. Blanchfield feels that angle off and has had her right knee connected to the left leg of Andrade to monitor the movement. As the angle off happens, Blanchfield laces an inside trip and dumps Andrade to the mat. Gorgeous work.  

The next sequences happen alarmingly smoothly. From the over-under, Blanchfield transitions to a loose set of bodylock grips. Her left knee pins the right foot and shin of Andrade for a second to slow down the closed guard retrieval. Blanchfield immediately splits the legs with her left, and steps over the left knee of Andrade with her left. Shockingly, Andrade does not try to wrap up a half guard or a lockdown entanglement on the left leg of Blanchfield who passes to side control with a swift hip switch.

Andrade works to get her frames inside, but Blanchfield passes off to the beginnings of a reverse cross face, and a usual far hip pin configuration in side control. Andrade uses her inside frames to try to build up to a turtle, but does so without an underhook. Blanchfield drapes her right arm over the shoulder of Andrade as she slides her right knee to a hip block. As Andrade opts to continue building, the choking arm slides under the neck and is locked up before hooks come in. The hooks do come in, and flatten out Andrade, who is forced to tap.

A single takedown needed for Blanchfield, a ferociously quick guard pass, and locking up chokes with no hooks is the sign of a fighter intent on ending fights when she has the chance. That top rung must feel welcomingly cold to the latest title contender at 125lb: Erin Blanchfield.

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