Erin Blanchfield, Jessica Andrade see positives in facing each other on short notice at UFC Vegas 69
Professional athletes who compete at the highest level in their sport can do things that the rest of us can’t imagine. In 2021, Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Max Kranik made his Major League Baseball debut with a no warning start against the St. Louis Cardinals. All he did was throw five perfect innings before a downpour forced him out of the game.
However, few professional athletes face the challenges that UFC fighters regularly face.
The latest example came on Saturday in the main event of UFC Vegas 69 at the Apex in Las Vegas, when Erin Blanchfield takes on Jessica Andrade in a five-round flyweight bout.
Blanchfield, a 23-year-old who is emerging as one of the UFC’s top prospects, shrugged when her original opponent, Tayla Santos, pulled out of their fight a week before kickoff, and Andrade agreed to take the fight.
It was another opponent with a style she hadn’t had a chance to prepare for, but like so many of her peers over the years, Blanchfield said yes without a second thought.
“My manager called me and said Tayla was out and Andrade was ready to take the fight,” Blanchfield said at a press day on Wednesday. “I fell immediately. I already gave my best and I really wanted to fight. Tayla is a strong opponent. Andrade is a strong opponent. Everyone is strong and I didn’t care. I was just happy to get the fight.”
Blanchfield wasn’t the only one who took the risk. Andrade is a veteran and much more experienced fighter, but she is fighting for the strawweight title against Zhang Weili. She lost her title to Zhang in China in 2019 and is hoping to get it back.
Andrade is 4-1 in her last five, with a single loss to superstar flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko. Most significant in terms of a quick fight with Blanchfield is the fact that she fought less than a month ago, dominating Lauren Murphy and winning a one-sided decision at UFC 283 on January 21 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Over the past seven years, she has lost only four times with 11 wins. All of these defeats were inflicted on former world champions (Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Zhang, Rose Namajunas and Shevchenko). She is well positioned for a possible fight with Zhang later this year, so she took a big risk by taking on Blanchfield.
But she was overweight and in good shape, so she said yes.
“I really wanted to fight, and last year I only had one fight,” Andrade said. “But of course I will fight as many times as I can. And the camp [for the Murphy bout] prepared me for this fight.”
The fact that both women accepted the offer without spending an hour thinking about the pros and cons says a lot about them, as well as about their peers who do it on a regular basis.
It takes a lot of things to become a professional fighter, and believing in yourself is at the top of this list of prerequisites. Let’s say it would have been easy for Blanchfield to back out and wait until the Santos fight was rescheduled. She was ranked #10 in the UFC flyweight rankings after an extremely impressive win over Molly McCann in November at UFC 281 at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Santos eighth in UFC pound-for-pound rankingsso this fight was a big jump for her. Andrade is ranked seventh in the weight class, so while it may not seem like a big difference, the styles are quite different.
The best fighters in the world tend to have indescribable self-confidence, and they take on these crazy challenges because they not only understand the reward, but they have little doubt of their ability to achieve anything.
The reward for the Blanchfield figurines will be huge. Murphy is ranked sixth in the flyweight division after losing to Andrade at UFC 283. If Blanchfield beats Andrade, who is ranked third in the flyweight division even though she plans to pursue the championship belt, it is possible that she will jump to sixth position in division to a minimum.
In the end, there is a simple reason why many of these fighters accept challenges at short notice, when tactically it would be better to wait: they are driven by competition and want to prove they are the best. And the fact that fighters don’t get paid if they don’t fight also always matters.
However, for many of them, it really is as simple as loving what they do and believing in themselves completely.
“I just love to fight,” Blanchfield said. “So why not?”