HomeSportsWill Erin Blanchfield's ascension continue in uphill battle against Taila Santos?

Will Erin Blanchfield’s ascension continue in uphill battle against Taila Santos?

Every young fighter at the top of the sport has a defining moment where they proved there was something special behind the hype. Disregarding Saturday night’s devastating knockout against Aljamain Sterling, Sean O’Malley’s win qualifies as a +230 underdog over Petr Yan. Conor McGregor’s unlikely comeback TKO against Chad Mendes also comes to mind, or even Amanda Nunes assaulting Miesha Tate for the title at UFC 200. It’s that moment when you see a fighter rise to the challenge and realize we’ve reached their true ceiling.

Erin Blanchfield’s win over Jessica Andrade in the second round put the flyweight division on the map, and it may be the fight we look back on as that moment for her. Immediately after her hand was raised, the way people talked about Blanchfield was different. The 24-year-old quickly went from an emerging prospect to a future champion.

Her chance to prove them right could happen sooner rather than later with a victory over No. 4 Taila Santos in Singapore this Saturday. After closing her last fight as a slight underdog (+110), the market opened this time with Blanchfield the favourite. That’s an impressive adjustment when you consider that Santos lost a razor-thin decision in a championship battle against Valentino Schevchenko last summer.

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Should we bet that Blanchfield will continue her fast track to a title shot? Or is the market now overestimating her against the best in the division?

These two fighters were originally scheduled to face each other in February, but Santos was forced to pull out, leading to the Blanchfield vs. 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 mentioning, but I don’t expect it to be a big factor.

Possession of the center of the Octagon becomes critical for both fighters. Santos’ strength and athleticism will prove to be Blachfield’s toughest test yet. Unbothered by the dangers of Andrade’s power, Blanchfield made her way through the pocket and made sure the fight was on her terms. Santos’ front kick will force Blanchfield to rely more on her improved footwork to methodically set up her entries.

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Erin Blanchfield seems to be closing in on a title shot, but must beat Taila Santos on Saturday. (Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Where it gets interesting is when Blanchfield gets a hold of her opponent and tries to get the fight on the mat. Santos is very dangerous in the clinch and can do serious damage with her knees at close range. If she can tie up Blanchfield, she may be able to land enough shots to create space and avoid landing on her back. Santos had success wrestling Shevchenko, but rolling around with Blanchfield for too long could have dire consequences.

While there are advantages to Santos, the stylistic matchup favors Blanchfield. Her attack has yet to be refined, but Blanchfield is excellent at weaponizing her forward thrust and crowding her opponent. She doesn’t back down as she marches forward and welcomes the exchanges, knowing they are going to create openings to secure the removal.

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I think the pressure and pace will eventually force Santos into a positional error, 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 ground and pound punishing is on another level. Her winning chances increase dramatically the longer she keeps Santos off her feet. Given that she averages 3.76 takedowns every 15 minutes, I’m confident she can win rounds if Santos’ submission defense holds. The odds that continue to move in Blanchfield’s favor indicate she is the rightful favourite, so it’s best to lock it in now. Insert: Erin Blanchfield -150

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