The Severe Spotlight: Erin Blanchfield

Blanchfield aggressively bounded out under the lights of MSG to land the first strike of her encounter with Liverpool’s Molly McCann on Saturday night. Out of the gate the improvements in her comfort in the striking realm was evident. Some of the lack of awareness lingered in the first fifteen seconds, when a stray kick was caught by McCann, and countered with a crushing overhand right.

Fighters often speak of building confidence by the skills earnt in the gym. Blanchfield showed reams of confidence to stay in the pocket with McCann early in the fight, using her head movement and her angles to land her shots. A double jab to a right hand all whilst cutting angles to her right-hand side was the pinnacle. The shot selection, and the punishment of naked shots also showed improvement. McCann level changes to land a body shot without much setup, Blanchfield recognises it and lands a piston right hand to the jaw.

Blanchfield’s previous home was the grappling, having that home, and that base of skill in the grappling often means there can be affluence in the kicking game, as there is less reliance on staying on the feet. Due to the striking success, a few minutes into the first round, McCann had resorted to attempting to catch kicks and grapple with Blanchfield, to subside the rising waves of momentum.

This did not prove to pay dividends. Blanchfield cut the cage off, and out angled McCann until she forced McCann to tread the treacherous tramline of the octagon floor. From there, patiently she waited for the shot she knew would come, the shot that had to come from McCann to create distance. That shot was a right hand, and Blanchfield immediately level changed under it, and shot to a double leg.

The intelligence to use the cage wall to sure up the double leg grips, and then to turn McCann off the fence and complete the takedown is fantastic. Modern MMA grappling demands that a large portion of the skill acquisition for a striking based fighter is to learn how to use the cage to climb back to your feet and remove yourself from positions. Blanchfield instead took that away from McCann immediately.

The second portion of intelligence was to shuck the legs past McCanns as she was falling from the double leg, and landing in side-control. MMA does not incentivise guard passing like sport grappling does, given that you can land strikes just fine from a half guard position, but Blanchfield wanted dominance.

She began looking for the kimura setup very early, crashing the far shoulder with her head, using her underhook to keep McCann’s elbow away from her ribs, and shelving the near shoulder with her thigh, allowing her to take the crossface off, and attempt to secure a kimura grip. McCann defended well. The fight spoke of Blanchfield looking for the least line of resistance, testing McCann to see whether the base level of submission awareness was there, which it was.

From the primary kimura attempt Blanchfield opted for an X shin staple, transitioning into the crucifix. The crucifix is a very dominant position in MMA, often used by Valentina Shevchenko to finish fights. It is dominant because both arms are isolated, and both shoulders are pinned. That pinning stops the torso from moving efficiently and allows a free arm for the attacker to strike. Often those strikes are elbows and can be devastatingly impactful.

Blanchfield opted for hammerfists, elbows, forearm smashes and regular punches to soften up the Liverpudlian. McCann was desperately trying to escape and forced Blanchfield to adjust with several escape attempts. One of those adjustments came from McCann generating side to side hip momentum and swinging her legs up to the legs of Blanchfield and interfering with the entanglement around her arm. Blanchfield, a step ahead allows the interference, catches the arm and drives it back into a fresh leg entanglement.

Blanchfield switches to looking for the kimura again, but McCann does a good job of both swimming in a frame – blocking the step over from Blanchfield and keeping her back on the mat. Noticing that the correct leverage isn’t in place, Blanchfield goes right back to the shin staple, and right back to the crucifix. McCann opts for the same hip rotation defence, this time Blanchfield makes no mistake.

She steps her left leg over the top, with the kimura grip, pulls the elbow to the chest to take slack out of the shoulder, and torques. McCann is forced to tap. Two finishes in two fights for Erin “Cold Blooded” Blanchfield.

A prospect is built over a progression of fights. One of the joys of being a member of the MMA community is being allowed a front row seat to a fighter’s improvements over the span of a career. Those improvements can come thick and fast at the start of their career. Erin Blanchfield is 5-0 in her UFC tenure, and the improvements across those fights have been vast.