A shot at the flyweight title is likely on the line when Jessica Andrade and Erin Blanchfield battle it out in the main event of UFC Vegas 69 on Saturday night (Sunday morning SA time), writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
A bantamweight bout between Marlon Vera and Cory Sandhagen was originally set to headline this weekend’s event at the UFC APEX but had to be postponed until March.
The fight between Blanchfield and Taila Santos was then promoted to main event status but that, too, fell by the wayside last weekend after two of the former flyweight title challenger’s coaches were denied visas into the United States.
Enter Andrade, who steps up on a week’s notice to take on the division’s rising star.
The co-main event meeting between Jordan Wright and Zac Pauga is one of two light heavyweight bouts on the main card, the other pitting William Knight against Marcin Prachnio.
Also in store is a heavyweight clash between Josh Parisian and debutant Jamal Pogues and a lightweight scrap between veteran Jim Miller and Alexander Hernandez.
MAIN CARD (from 2 AM Sunday SA time):
Jessica Andrade (1.66) v Erin Blanchfield (2.30) (Flyweight)
Both ladies deserve credit for saving the seemingly cursed card, Andrade (24-9) for stepping up as mentioned and Blanchfield (10-1) for her willingness to take on an even tougher and more dangerous challenge.
Andrade’s a 5’3″ stick of dynamite who blows opponents out of the Octagon with skilled aggression and prolific power. She’s a member of women’s mixed martial arts history, a former strawweight champion and flyweight title challenger.
“Bate Estaca” boasts 17 finishes in all (nine knockouts and eight submissions) and is fresh off a brutal win over Lauren Murphy in January. Her last three wins had come in the first half and it was Murphy’s extraordinary toughness alone that carried her to the bell, although many – myself included – felt the beat down should’ve been stopped.
Given her extremely short-notice entry into this five-round main event, the Brazilian will look to get it done early whereas Blanchfield, who has the benefit of having had a full fight camp, will seek to survive the early storm and drag her decorated opponent into deep water.
Blanchfield is a flawless 4-0 inside the Octagon and has shown improvement every time out. Half of her wins are by decision but she’s won her last two fights by submission. Her domination of fan favourite Molly McCann last November put her on the map as she woman-handled and forced “Meatball” to tap in the first round.
Having shot up to 10th in the rankings, Blanchfield has a golden opportunity to leapfrog her way to the front of the line by beating someone of Andrade’s stature. Her maiden main event’s a massive step up for the 23-year-old, though. She’s never faced anyone remotely as dangerous or experienced at the highest level as the ex-115-pound queen.
The American doesn’t have the strike power Andrade possesses. Few at featherweight do. Instead, “Cold Blooded” is a high-volume striker who mixes in takedowns smartly and efficiently (averaging four takedowns per 15 minutes to Andrade’s 2.75) and has great jiu-jitsu.
The problem for her is Andrade only needs to connect cleanly with a couple of punches to clean an opponent’s clock. Furthermore, Andrade has solid takedown defence, so she should be able to keep the fight on the feet, where her power should lead her to a TKO victory in the first three rounds.
Jordan Wright (3.30) v Zac Pauga (1.36) (Light Heavyweight)
The co-main event sees fighters meet in the middle. Wright (12-4) moves up to light heavyweight after losing three in a row at middleweight while Pauga (5-1) drops down from heavyweight.
Pauga’s a natural 205-pounder but couldn’t pass up an opportunity to compete on The Ultimate Fighter last year and made it to the heavyweight final. He was favoured to win the clash against Mohammed Usman and looked on course to doing just that before he was knocked out cold in the second round.
At his best, Wright – who’s fighting to save his career – is a savage. All of his dozen wins are stoppages (seven knockouts and five submissions). Aggressive to a fault, two of his last three losses were first-round finishes.
Pauga’s a great athlete. A former NFL player, he has top-class speed and mobility, which he uses along with solid technique and a well-rounded approach to get his hand raised.
“The Ripper” only has one KO/TKO to his credit but with his advantage in athleticism and Wright’s gung-ho style, he’ll get his second here.
Josh Parisian (3.05) v Jamal Pogues (1.40) (Heavyweight)
Parisian (15-5) welcomes Pogues (9-3) to the Octagon in what is a tough maiden outing for the UFC newcomer. He hasn’t shown the fight IQ or killer instinct to indicate he’ll last in the promotion or warrant his status as the favourite in this featured bout.
Parisian’s no world-beater but he’s high on experience and much more dangerous than “The Stormtrooper” with 13 stoppage wins, including an 11th KO/TKO in his last fight against Alan Baudot.
The veteran’s also the superior grappler. It won’t be pretty, but Parisian’s a great underdog pick and will most likely prevail on points.
William Knight (1.86) v Marcin Prachnio (1.95) (Light Heavyweight)
The tightest odds of the main card can be found in the first of the two light heavyweight tilts. These two push the envelope on the feet and with both men looking to get back in the win column, there’s an air of desperation to this clash that increases the likelihood of a finish.
Knight (11-4) gives up size but has more tools. Though he usually gets it done with his striking (nine knockouts), he incorporates wrestling into his fights when he needs to. The same can’t be said for Prachnio (15-6). He’s heading into his seventh UFC fight and is yet to score a takedown inside the Octagon.
He hasn’t had the same success with his striking in the UFC that he did in ONE and elsewhere, with just one of his 11 knockouts coming in the UFC while three of his four losses in the promotion were by KO.
He simply has too many chinks in his armour and too little variation, so I expect “Knightmare” to add to his woes.
Jim Miller (2.95) v Alexander Hernandez (1.43) (Lightweight)
Like the headliner, the main card opener’s a rebooked bout with Hernandez (13-6) replacing Gabriel Benitez on less than two weeks’ notice.
After back-to-back losses, it’s an opportunity for Hernandez to right the ship against the second-biggest name on the card and a legend in Miller (35-16), who boasts the most appearances and wins in UFC history.
Another great underdog pick, 39-year-old Miller’s ageing like fine wine. He’s won three in a row, two by knockout and most recently securing his 19th submission victory over Donald Cerrone.
Despite being a veteran, “A-10” will push a higher pace than his 30-year-old foe, who’s yet to live up to the potential he showed when he arrived in the UFC in 2018.
Miller has the seasoned savviness to avoid getting hit cleanly by “The Great Ape” as well as the output and grappling prowess as a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt to either outwork or submit him.