Every young fighter at the top of the sport has a defining moment when they proved there was something special behind the hype. If you exclude Saturday night’s devastating knockout of Aljamain Sterling, Sean O’Malley’s win as a +230 underdog over Petr Yan qualifies. Conor McGregor’s improbable comeback TKO against Chad Mendes also comes to mind, or even Amanda Nunes battering Miesha Tate for the title at UFC 200. It’s that moment when you watch a fighter rise to the challenge, and realize that we have yet to see their true ceiling.
Erin Blanchfield’s second-round submission win over Jessica Andrade put the flyweight division on notice, and it may be the fight we look back on as that moment for her. Immediately after her hand was raised, the way people spoke about Blanchfield was different. The 24-year-old quickly went from rising prospect to being referred to as a future champion.
Her opportunity to prove them right could happen more sooner than later with a win over No. 4 ranked Taila Santos in Singapore this Saturday. After closing as a slight underdog (+110) in her last fight, the market opened with Blanchfield as the favorite this time around. That’s an impressive adjustment considering Santos is coming off a razor-thin decision loss in a championship fight against Valentina Schevchenko last summer.
Should we bet on Blanchfield to continue her rapid trajectory toward a title shot? Or is the market now overrating her against the one of the division’s best?
These two fighters were originally scheduled to face each other in February, but Santos was forced to withdraw, leading to the Blanchfield-Andrade fight. That’s only relevant in the sense that Blanchfield has been the more active fighter, with Santos out of competition for 14 months. It’s worth noting, but I don’t expect it to be much of a factor.
Owning the center of the Octagon is going to be critical for both fighters. Santos’ strength and athleticism will prove to be Blachfield's stiffest test to date. Blanchfield was unbothered by the dangers of Andrade’s power, buzz-sawing her way through the pocket and ensuring the fight took place on her terms. Santos’ front kick will force Blanchfield to rely more on her improved footwork to methodically set up her entries.
Where it gets interesting is when Blanchfield gets her hands on her opponent and tries to get the fight to the mat. Santos is very dangerous in the clinch and can do serious damage with her knees in close range. If she can tie up Blanchfield, she might be able to land enough shots to create space and avoid ending up on her back. Santos had success grappling with Shevchenko, but rolling around for too long with Blanchfield could have severe consequences.
While there are advantages for Santos, the stylistic matchup favors Blanchfield. Her striking still needs refinement, but Blanchfield is excellent at weaponizing her forward pressure and crowding her opponent. She doesn’t flinch while marching forward and welcomes the exchanges knowing full well they are going to create openings to secure the takedown.
I think that pressure and pace will ultimately force Santos into a mistake positionally and allow Blanchfield to get this fight to the ground, where she is one of the deadliest fighters in the division. Santos is no slouch on the mat, but Blanchfield’s combination of elite grappling and punishing ground-and-pound is on another level. Her win probability dramatically increases the longer she keeps Santos off her feet. Considering she averages 3.76 takedowns per 15 minutes, I’m confident she can win rounds in the event that Santos' submission defense holds up. The odds continuing to move in Blanchfield’s favor signals that she is the rightful favorite, so it’s best to lock this one now. Bet: Erin Blanchfield -150