The UFC Apex will once again play host to a fight card this weekend, as the promotion returns to the United States after a successful pay-per-view event in Australia. After a last minute shake-up, the main event will feature a clash of top flyweights, as former strawweight champion Jessica Andrade steps in on short notice to face a surging Erin Blanchfield.
Andrade has won three consecutive fights, including a hellacious beating of Lauren Murphy less than a month ago at UFC 283. Blanchfield’s winning streak is even longer, putting together seven wins in a row, which includes victories in all four of her UFC appearances. She most recently forced the Molly McCann hype-train to a screeching halt, scoring a first-round submission by kimura in their showdown.
The co-main event is slated to be in the light heavyweight division with Zac Pauga squaring off against Jordan Wright. A peculiar choice for the co-main event position, as Pauga has yet to win a fight inside the promotion, and Wright has lost three fights in a row. These two hard-hitting 205-pound fighters will throw down, potentially with their jobs on the line.
Also on the fight card is UFC’s all-time winningest fighter, Jim Miller. He brings his 24 Octagon victories with him this weekend, as he takes on Alexander Hernandez. In addition to leading the promotion in wins, Miller also has the most fights under the promotion’s banner, with 40, and this weekend will mark his 41st walk to the Octagon. Miller has had a career resurgence as of late, winning three straight fights. Hernandez isn’t Miller’s originally scheduled opponent, as Gabriel Benitez was forced to withdraw from the bout. Coming into this contest, Hernandez has lost two in a row, including a return to featherweight that saw him on the wrong side of a TKO loss against Billy Quarantillo. Now, back at lightweight, he will look to get back in stride and add a win over a legend like Miller to his resume.
UFC Fight Night: Andrade vs. Blanchfield takes place inside the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. The event airs in its entirety live on ESPN+ starting at p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Andrew Sumian and Matt Petela preview the action in this week’s edition of Toe-to-Toe.
With Taila Santos out of action, due to personal issues, Jessica Andrade steps in on short notice to take on Erin Blanchfield; does the former strawweight champion pick up a second win at flyweight within a month?
Sumian: This women’s flyweight main event bout features two of the best currently-active flyweights in the world. However, the two women that are taking part in this main event showdown are in very different positions going into Saturday.
Jessica Andrade is a notable flyweight and bantamweight contender, who is probably going to be considered one of the most powerful punchers in women’s MMA history by the time her career is over. Despite joining the UFC nearly 10 years ago, she is still only 31 years old and is currently riding a three-fight winning streak. Andrade is exactly the opposite of the type of fighter any woman would want to face after their opponent dropped out. She is fierce, powerful, and has a considerable experience advantage over the up-and-coming Blanchfield. The Brazilian bomber is capable of knocking out any flyweight and has no problem trading shots until she finds an opening and seizes the opportunity. A win over the talented Blanchfield will get her one step closer to reclaiming the flyweight crown.
When it comes to noteworthy women’s flyweight contenders, look no further than the talented and charismatic Erin Blanchfield. She has compiled an impressive four-fight winning streak since joining the UFC roster and, most recently, defeated Molly McMann by first-round submission. Despite the impressive start to her UFC campaign, Blanchfield is about to take a giant step-up in competition. Despite this, counting out Blanchfield would be a mistake. The New York native is young, hungry and ready for a step-up in competition to prove that she is capable of competing with the very best women out there. If Blanchfield is able to pull off the win over Andrade, she will be on a short list of contenders for the flyweight title very soon.
Even though it is a short-notice booking, this is the exact type of women’s fight that should be headlining a Fight Night main event. A talented young prospect ready for the next step will take on a powerful veteran, who is still very well in her prime. There is no doubt that Andrade will hold a distinct power advantage, which should allow her to bully Blanchfield in the clinch and against the fence if the fight goes there. She possesses knockout power in both hands and will be more than willing to exchange in the boxing range if Blanchfield gives her the opportunity. For Blanchfield, the key to victory is to consistently circle away from Andrade, and fire off quick in-and-out kickboxing combinations. She will hold a two-inch height advantage and a noticeable six-inch reach advantage. Utilizing her length against the powerful and stocky power puncher in Andrade will be key if she hopes to get out of this fight without being put to sleep by a powerful punch.
Blanchfield is certainly a prospect to keep an eye on, but she will come up short on Saturday night. Andrade’s experience, power and tenacity will be too much for the young contender to overcome and she will fall short, despite a strong start. Andrade will use her power to eventually overwhelm Blanchfield and a submission or TKO victory in the third round.
Petela: I picked against Jessica Andrade when she fought Amanda Lemos, but I wised up prior to her fight against Lauren Murphy. At both strawweight and flyweight, Andrade is such a powerhouse that I don’t think I will pick against her for the foreseeable future.
There’s nothing negative I can say about Erin Blanchfield. She has looked like nothing short of a special fighter since joining the UFC and is constantly improving. After two straight decision victories to start her UFC tenure, she has become a finisher and has picked up two submission wins in her last two fights. She is certainly trending in the right direction, and I think it is more likely than not that she will one day have a UFC belt wrapped around her waist. This weekend will be a minor setback that she ultimately uses to learn from and grow. The 23-year-old is still a work in progress, which is amazing considering the level of talent she has shown in her young career.
Andrade is simply going to be too strong for Blanchfield to defeat this weekend. She hits too hard, and her grappling strength will be enough to thwart any submission attempts by Blanchfield. There isn’t a ton more I can say about this fight, other than I think that Andrade’s power, complimented by her experience, will win her this fight. This is the first five-round fight of Blanchfield’s career, and, once she tastes the power of Andrade, she will try and do everything she can to get this fight to the mat. Because of that, she will expend an exorbitant amount of energy trying to secure a takedown. By the latter rounds, fatigue will set in, and Andrade will connect with a fight-altering punch that floors Blanchfield and forces the referee to rescue her from any further damage.
Zac Pauga lost his UFC debut by knockout in Aug. 2022; can he rebound by defeating a struggling Jordan Wright?
Petela: Yes. This fight doesn’t make it past Round 1. Zac Pauga showed in that debut loss that he has big power, hurting Mohammed Usman in the opening round, before being caught with a hellacious shot early in Round 2. Jordan Wright has only gone to a second round twice in his six UFC fights, and he has never been to a decision. He sports just a 2-4 record over those six fights, including three straight losses. This fight is tailor-made for Pauga to get back on track with an explosive and fan-friendly knockout.
At Age 34, Pauga is a bit older than the typical prospect, but he is still relatively inexperienced in his pro mixed martial arts career. He has only fought six times, this weekend will be his seventh fight, and, outside of that knockout loss to Usman, only one of his fights ended before the judges’ scorecards were read. I point that out to say that the reason I am picking him to end this fight early is because of his opponent, not so much because Pauga is a great finisher. Wright just isn’t a UFC-caliber fighter, and his chin is questionable, at best. This will be a good performance for Pauga, but I don’t think his ultimate ceiling is very high inside the promotion.
Sumian: Agreed with my colleague on this one. Wright is the exact kind of get-right opponent Pauga needs to turn things around in a decisive manner.
He will come out ready to showcase an impressive rebound performance and show why he was signed in the first place. However, it wouldn’t be wise to expect a long UFC career out of the 34-year-old.
What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?
Sumian: Lina Lansberg is going to find herself in a very tough spot, if she is unable to get the win after dropping three in a row. She is fighting a younger opponent in Mayra Bueno Silva, who is on a two-fight winning streak. Unfortunately for Lansberg, another loss is more likely than not, and she will likely find herself looking for a new home if she continues to compete after Saturday.
Petela: Jordan Wright. He is on a three-fight losing streak, twice being knocked out and once being submitted. There are certainly fighters who have had longer losing streaks that kept their roster spot, but, typically, those are well-established veterans who have recognizable names. Wright just isn’t that guy. He has two victories inside the UFC, and neither one came over a particularly noteworthy opponent. Should he lose once again this weekend, it is hard to believe that he would remain fighting under the UFC banner.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Petela: Ovince Saint Preux vs. Philipe Lins. How is OSP on the prelims of this fight card? The guy is a former title challenger, for crying out loud. I know that he’s up there in age, and hasn’t looked great lately, but he deserves a main-card slot on any non-pay-per-view fight card. Both of these guys are coming off decision wins after back-to-back losses, and they are both closer to 40 than 30. It could be the last time we see either, or both, of these men inside the UFC, and that makes me think they’ll both be extra hungry for a stoppage victory. This could end up stealing the show with some early fireworks.
Sumian: Jim Miller vs. Alexander Hernandez is going to be the fight that steals the show on Saturday night. This fight should be the co-main event of the evening, and it is undoubtedly the most exciting fight of the evening on paper. Neither combatant is a boring fighter, win or lose. This will deliver a bonus-worthy performance to get the main card off to a hot start.
Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?
Sumian: The streak will continue for UFC veteran Jim Miller when he finishes Alexander Hernandez by a choke. Hernandez has looked like a shadow of his former self in the last few years, and Miller is riding high on the newfound veteran confidence he has decisively established. Miller by second-round submission and an extra $50,000
Petela: With so few standout fighters on this card, it feels like these “Performance of the Night” winners are going to come out of nowhere and be totally unexpected. In that spirit, I’m picking Marcin Prachnio to score a bonus-worthy knockout over William Knight. Prachnio has lost four of six recently, but he has 11 career knockouts, and I have a feeling he gets No. 12, stopping William Knight in the second round.
Pair this card with…
Petela: This fight card is rather lackluster in name-power outside of a few fights. One of those easily recognisable names is Jim Miller, and there’s nothing that goes better with a gritty Jim Miller fight than a good, old-fashioned Budweiser. Grab a case of Bud and enjoy Jim Miller doing what he does – deliver a blue-collar, tough performance, win, lose or draw.
Sumian: Pretzels. This card is definitely on the lower side of the scale when it comes to the gymnastics scale of grading. Like pretzels, this card is not exciting, nor a snack that is going to turn any heads. However, it’s reliable, salty and provides the nourishment necessary at a party or event. This card will do just the same by providing a healthy mix of notable moments, combined with lackluster fights that will soon be forgotten.
|Fight||Sumian’s Pick||Petela’s Pick|
|Main Card (ESPN+, 7 p.m. ET)|
|Women’s FlyW: Jessica Andrade vs. Erin Blanchfield||Andrade||Andrade|
|LHW: Zac Pauga vs. Jordan Wright||Pauga||Pauga|
|HW: Josh Parisian vs. Jamal Pogues||Parisian||Parisian|
|LHW: William Knight vs. Marcin Prachnio||Prachnio||Prachnio|
|LW: Jim Miller vs. Alexander Hernandez||Miller||Hernandez|
|Preliminary Card (ESPN+, 4 p.m. ET)|
|Women’s BW: Lina Lansberg vs. Mayra Bueno Silva||Silva||Lansberg|
|FW: Jamall Emmers vs. Khusein Askhabov||Emmers||Emmers|
|LHW: Ovince Saint Preux vs. Philipe Lins||Lins||Saint Preux|
|LW: Nazim Sadykhov vs. Evan Elder||Sadykhov||Sadykhov|
|WW: AJ Fletcher vs. Themba Gorimbo||Fletcher||Fletcher|
|FlyW: Clayton Carpenter vs. Juancamilo Ronderos||Carpenter||Carpenter|