On a fight card full of names to watch with two titles on the line, Erin Blanchfield hovered a little under-the-radar heading into her bout with Miranda Maverick at UFC 269. Once the dust settled on a stunning fight night, Blanchfield stood among those who made the strongest statements in T-Mobile Arena. Her clean-sweep victory over Maverick was a display of Blanchfield’s impressive strength and grappling control.
At the end of three rounds, Blanchfield left Maverick rather frustrated, an impressive result over a fellow prospect who had some steam behind her. Much like her debut win Sarah Alpar, Blanchfield was a picture of maturity during fight week and in the Octagon. She did admit in her post-fight interview with UFC.com that she feels old in the sport, but young in life, which, at 22, is a completely understandable divide.
With two UFC wins under her belt, she’s turning her attention to the rankings, but also crucially, she’s turning her eyes to the housing market in New Jersey.
“In all other aspects of my life, I still feel very much so like 22,” Blanchfield told UFC.com over the phone. “I want to move out of my parents’ house and stuff like that. I guess grasping all areas of life — like (in) fighting, I feel so secure. It’s something I’ve been doing my whole life, and I know all the ins and outs, and I feel like a vet in that sense. I feel like I’m figuring everything else out.”
Moving out from under your parents’ roof is one of the most significant transitions in adulthood, and it also serves as a reminder of how young Blanchfield actually is, despite the way she carries herself when it comes to the fight game.
Whereas she seems well-prepared to take on the challenges that come across in the cage, the real estate arena is a whole different beast, and the body shot that is housing prices is enough to take the wind out of anyone’s sails.
“Everything is just super expensive,” Blanchfield said. “When I look at the rent and when I see what the apartment actually looks like, I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I’m paying that much for just that?’ I hope the prices go down. I can afford it, but do I want to do that now, or should I wait a little bit and see how that changes? That’s definitely the hardest part right now.”
Other than that, though, Blanchfield has had a smooth start to her 20s. She did enough in the last quarter of 2021 to earn the fifth spot on this website’s Newcomers of the Year list. Blanchfield is the third flyweight to appear in the list’s Top 5 along with Manon Fiorot (2nd) and Casey O’Neill (1st), both of whom made their UFC debuts in January 2021.
Although the top of the women’s flyweight division remains rather unchanged as Valentina Shevchenko continues her dominant reign, the last couple of years have seen a wave of young, fresh blood appear at 125, including Maverick, Maycee Barber, Cory McKenna, Mariya Agapova and Melissa Gatto.
The rising class of prospects makes it all the more difficult to distinguish oneself in the division, even in a division still very much in its UFC infancy, but it’s something that intrigues Blanchfield as she looks down the road of her career.
“I think that’s actually super exciting,” she said. “It makes it a little bit more competitive. If I was the only younger person in the division, everyone would have their eyes on me, but since there’s a few younger girls, your fights have to be even more impressive in order for you to stick out. I feel like it gives a little extra competitive edge, which I like. It just gives a lot of different opponent opportunities and interesting fights for the division.”
Blanchfield expressed interest in fighting O’Neill because “everyone is hot on her” right now, as well as Barber, whom Blanchfield was booked against originally before Barber had to pull out of the matchup.
Even though Blanchfield wants to climb the rankings and get a shot at the belt sooner rather than later, she isn’t necessarily in a rush. Countless fighters who come into the promotion in their early-20s set their bar at breaking Jon Jones’ record for becoming champion just after turning 23, and while that’s a respectable goal, it’s one that can at times lead a young fighter to too much too soon.
To her credit, Blanchfield doesn’t feel the need to bring up Jones’ record to validate herself as a prospect to watch. She understands her potential and believes it’s a matter of time before the big opportunities come.
“I don’t need to be like, ‘Oh, I want to reach this by this time,’” she said. “I know what I’m capable of, and I know what I’m going to be able to do once I get into the cage and I can fight these people, but you can’t plan every aspect of life, so I feel like that just kind of helps me stay motivated. That’s what I want to do, and I know how hard those goals are, and you need to get the fights in in order to achieve that, but I have the time, and I don’t need to rush.”
She brings that composure into her approach to fighting as well. Blanchfield said she has always felt confident in her ability to compete from a young age, but she admits it took a while for her to not feel caught up in the moment early in her professional career.
The only time that confidence might have wavered was in the year between her last fight in Invicta FC and her UFC debut. A couple opportunities presented themselves, but the short-notice nature would’ve forced her into a difficult weight cut. Her time eventually came, and she immediately asserted herself in the division. On the surface, Octagon jitters never appeared, and even when she fought in front of a proper crowd at UFC 269, she stuck to her guns and relatively rag dolled Maverick from bell-to-bell.
Blanchfield believes her biggest strength is her ability to stay in the moment and remain calm, something she cultivated after her first few professional fights. That understanding allows her to, in her mind, “deal with anything” better than her opponent. The only thing she hasn’t accomplished to this early point of her UFC run is earn a finish, but she knows that’s not something she can push for too heavily.
“I feel pretty good with how I’ve been performing,” she said. “I feel like my flow and stuff in my fights has been good. I feel like the biggest thing is I really want to get a finish. I haven’t gotten a finish in a while, and that’s something I’m definitely chasing, but I’m not going to force anything. I feel like how I’ve been fighting is working really well for me, and I feel super dominant. I think those finishes will come. I’m still growing as a fighter, so I feel like I just need to work on little details and stuff like that and just kind of keep fighting the way I am, and I think those finishes will come.”
What she also knows is coming is the increased spotlight on herself. She laughed a little bit at some of the interactions back home when someone recognizes her, something that has happened more after her performance at UFC 269. She doesn’t worry about it too much, but Blanchfield is intentional about the impression she gives to younger kids, fretting about the weird feeling of being younger than most adults but kids seeing her as a big-time professional athlete.
So far, so good, though. From the outside, it seems like Blanchfield has it all under control heading into 2022, which projects to be a critical year in the division. The young talent has ingratiated itself into the thick of the rankings, and a new crop of contenders is needed sooner than later as Shevchenko continues to chew up anyone who earns a shot at the belt.
Granted, as we all saw the same night as Blanchfield’s breakout win, a fighter can look invincible right up until they don’t. Julianna Peña stole the night and rightly so after she toppled Amanda Nunes and took the bantamweight belt. It remains one of the most stunning upsets in the promotion’s history, and it served as a reminder that nothing is a shoo-in when it comes to fighting.
With that in mind, Blanchfield said she can’t help but have that matchup with Shevchenko on her mind even though her focus is always on the next opponent.
“It does show you that nobody is invincible,” Blanchfield said. “Doesn’t matter if the person who has been undefeated their whole career or for 10 fights, it doesn’t matter as long as you have your plan, and you’ve trained for it and you can go in there and apply it. Anybody can win any fight. We see it all the time in this sport, but it’s funny. It’s refreshing every time you see it happen again. That’s something that will happen eventually if I fight Valentina.”
Blanchfield hopes to fight about three or four times in 2022 and pick up that first finish as well. More than anything, though, she hopes to continue her steady climb to elite status at 125 pounds. So far, she seems well-equipped to do just that.
Other than that, there’s the pesky business of moving out of her parents’ house and paying rent — normal problems for a potentially special 22-year-old.