Erin Blanchfield’s date with destiny could be arriving sooner than expected.
All Blanchfield has to do is get past Jessica Andrade in Saturday’s UFC Vegas 69 main event, which should be easy as long as you ignore that Andrade owns more finishes in the UFC than any woman not named Amanda Nunes, that Andrade is a top 5 fighter in two divisions, and that the 23-year-old Blanchfield is yet to face a fighter near Andrade’s caliber.
Other than all that, too easy.
Blanchfield already had a tall task ahead of her before originally scheduled UFC Vegas 69 headliner Taila Santos was forced to withdraw due to visa issues affecting her team, but now she faces a former UFC champion seeking another title opportunity. If Blanchfield defeats Andrade, it’s hard to argue she has done enough to make her way to the flyweight title bout.
This might be a one-fight card, but the ripples of this one fight could be felt throughout the rest of 2023.
In other main card action, light heavyweights Jordan Wright and Zac Pauga hunt for a much-needed win, Josh Parisian meets Jamal Pogues in a heavyweight bout, light heavyweights William Knight and Marcin Prachnio face off, and lightweight Jim Miller makes his record-extending 41st UFC appearance when he fights Alexander Hernandez.
What: UFC Vegas 69
Where : UFC APEX Las Vegas
When: Saturday, Feb. 18. The six-fight preliminary card begins at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN+, followed by a five-fight main card at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN+.
(Numbers in parentheses indicate standing in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings)
Jessica Andrade (4) vs. Erin Blanchfield (9)
Jessica Andrade has been a nightmare matchup for UFC title hopefuls and that trend is going to continue Saturday.
I have no doubt that Erin Blanchfield is going to fight for the title one day. She’s already one of the best grapplers pound-for-pound in the UFC, she’s a plus athlete, and she’s mature beyond her years. Blanchfield was considered a potential contender from a young age. Her fighting career has proven that.
But Andrade is a bridge too far for now.
It’s a lot to ask Blanchfield to figure out a fighter who has been so dominant in two divisions, with Andrade typically only falling short to the very best. Andrade has incredible power in both hands in addition to a dangerous submission game and she’s more aggressive than anyone Blanchfield has stepped into the cage with in her brief career. Blanchfield is strong and large, but she has a lot of work to do against Andrade. Blanchfield’s athletic peak is years off.
Run this one back in 2025 and I could see Blanchfield rag-dolling Andrade. In the present, Andrade’s experience and offensive options are too much for Blanchfield. Andrade will win with strikes in round three. This is a lesson Blanchfield can learn that will help her become a stronger fighter.
Jordan Wright vs. Zac Pauga
I don’t care that Jordan Wright is building up a heck of a reverse highlight reel for himself: The UFC needs fighters like Jordan Wright.
That’s correct, it was me. Jordan Wright, who suffered three consecutive losses via knockout or submission. That Jordan Wright. There’s a skill to being an entertaining loser (for lack of a better word) and few have been better at it than Wright in the past couple of years.
That’s not to say that “The Beverly Hills Ninja” can’t win on Saturday. The UFC wouldn’t just keep him around to be a punching bag, even if he is exceptional at it. Because the flip-side to Wright getting finished all the time is that he’s produced excitement on the other side of the equation too, with all three of his UFC wins coming via strikes.
Still, I’m high on Pauga’s chances of making good on his second UFC appearance after a disappointing end to his Ultimate Fighter 30 run. Pauga looked set to win that season but was stopped by Mohammed Usman. He was still my favorite heavyweight, thanks to his sharp boxing and great movement.
Pauga makes his light heavyweight debut on Saturday and I expect it to be a fine one, with “The Ripper” landing a knockout blow late in Round 1.
Josh Parisian vs. Jamal Pogues
This one can get really silly real quick.
Josh Parisian and Jamal Pogues are bantamweight kickboxers in heavyweight MMA fighters’ bodies, which is to say that they both fancy themselves high-level strikers when the actual results have been mixed. Be prepared to see a lot of posing and posturing and some wild misses in this one.
That’s not to say it won’t be entertaining. Parisian supports big guys throwing s***, and Pogues brings his confident striking style to the UFC. If anything, Parisian and Pogues will have a great time talking trash in between occasional bursts of offense. Parisian has an option to make this a wrestling match if he is solely focused on his UFC win streak.
Parisian by decision.
William Knight vs. Marcin Prachnio
I don’t like Marcin Prachnio’s chances of leaving this one on his feet.
Sure, William Knight isn’t the most consistent fighter and Prachnio’s height is sure to give him problems. But Prachnio just isn’t great at getting out of the way of his opponent’s strikes, which is a terrible weakness to have in general, but especially when you’re facing a hulk like Knight.
Prachnio will play keep away with jabs and teeps to the body, a strategy that is sure to frustrate Knight early. Knight needs only one shot to flip a fight. He’s an absolute tree stump of a man who, if he were a lot more accurate with his strikes, would probably be finishing opponents left and right. As it stands, Knight remains mostly a theoretical knockout threat when facing decent competition.
Fortunately for Knight Prachnio sits right in the middle when it comes the light heavyweight roster. Knight will need to be patient, but once Prachnio is on the right track, things should be easy for him.
Jim Miller vs. Alexander Hernandez
Is it rude to say that Jim Miller is just better at mixing the martial arts than Alexander Hernandez?
At the moment, Hernandez is a healthy favorite on most betting sites, which is a testament to the tantalizing talent and physical gifts that the 30-year-old presents every time he makes that walk to the octagon. He’s developed a reputation as a fast finisher who struggles to put an exclamation point on fights that go to a decision and that’s an issue if you’re fighting Miller.
It’s been more than four years since Miller was defeated by an opponent in the first round. This feat was accomplished by Charles Oliveira, a future lightweight champion. Even if you think Hernandez has superior punching power, I’m skeptical of his chances of catching Miller early. Miller might be nine years older than Hernandez, but if all it took was youth and explosiveness to beat him, then Miller would have retired a long time ago. Miller is still one of the most formidable fighters in the lightweight division. This includes those who are not as good at their overall game.
Hernandez’s best chance is to sprawl and brawl his way to victory, an outcome that wouldn’t shock anyone according to the odds. However, I am riding along the light weight division’s lifer and will submit to Miller.
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Ovince Saint Preux def. Philipe Lins
A.J. Fletcher def. Themba Gorimbo
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