Issue 202

January 2024

Erin Blanchfield's journey from the boos at Madison Square Garden to emerge as a formidable force in the flyweight division 

Depending on traffic and how you wanted to travel, it would take 45 minutes to a little over an hour to make the 28-kilometer journey from Elmwood Park, New Jersey, to Madison Square Garden in New York City.

You could do it for as little as three bucks if you didn’t mind taking the bus, but you could also drive or take the train, which would deliver you right to Penn Station, which lives underneath “The World’s Most Famous Arena.” Jump off the train, make your way through the people, up the stairs, and bingo, you’re there; door-to-door in less than 90 minutes, easy, provided there is no traffic or delays.

By comparison, Liverpool is 5,312 kilometers from MSG, and while a transatlantic voyage by boat is still an option, the roughly eight-hour flight is probably your best bet.

Given those two travel itineraries, how is it that when Elmwood Park’s Erin Blanchfield faced off with Liverpool’s Molly McCann at Madison Square Garden on the UFC 281 preliminary card, it was Blanchfield who got booed and McCann who was showered with cheers?


“It is very much New York,” says Blanchfield, laughing as she recalled the final fight of her 2022 campaign and the response she received from what should have been her hometown supporters. “You never go through your whole fighting career without getting booed somewhere, but I didn’t think it was gonna happen in New York.

“Maybe Brazil or something like that, but (New York) was definitely surprising.”

MMA fandom often produces some inexplicable interactions, but a rising star from just across the Hudson River getting crushed with a Bronx cheer in Manhattan when she’s about to take on a veteran from across the pond was genuinely unexpected and goes to show the power of McCann’s popularity.

An engaging personality and a pair of knockout wins on British soil earlier in the year, coupled with her close bond with teammate Paddy Pimblett and their joint partnership with Barstool Sports, had turned the now 33-year-old Scouser into a rising star with the more casual UFC audience. When she and Blanchfield each walked to the scale for the ceremonial weigh-ins the evening before their battle, it was the Brit who got the hometown pop and the Jersey girl who was treated like the hated rival.

It was the same when Bruce Buffer introduced them the following night inside the Octagon — the crowd roared for McCann and chanted “Meatball” in the early stages of the fight, prompting the broadcast team of Jon Anik, Joe Rogan, and Daniel Cormier to address the misaligned response.


Rogan suggested that the fans didn’t know Blanchfield was a lights-out prospect, carrying a 9-1 record and three straight victories in the UFC into her battle with McCann. Anik and Cormier quickly jumped in, pointing out that she was a local, which made the crowd's reaction seem extra strange.

“The only thing that was really surprising was when I was in the fight, and I had her in side control, beating her up, the whole crowd was silent; you could hear a pin drop,” offers Blanchfield, who won the fight by kimura in the opening round, and has since added two additional victories to her resume to push her record to 6-0 in the UFC and 12-1 overall. “The second she almost escaped, they all cheered, and then I put her right back into a kimura position, and they were silent again.

“That caught me,” she adds, shaking her head and smiling. “I remember thinking in the fight, ‘Aw man, you guys suck!’”

When McCann finally tapped to the excruciating shoulder lock three minutes into the fight, Blanchfield calmly rose to her feet, removed her mouthguard, and effortlessly brushed the dirt off each of her shoulders.

“Yes! Yes! That was for the crowd,” she says when asked about the low-key yet stone-cold post-fight celebration. “Molly talked some sh**t to me while we were facing off, but it wasn’t anything crazy. I think it was mostly getting booed in my own home — all my family and friends were there. I literally live an hour from there!

“I feel like I handled it really well before the fight — it’s something I knew was gonna happen because she’s super-popular and the crowd was behind her, they knew her — but then right after you win like that, it’s a nice way to get it off.”


A rising star in the UFC flyweight division and someone who should be one of the core foundational pieces for the promotion in the years to come, people have likely heard about Blanchfield telling her parents that she wanted to be a professional fighter when she grows up. She made these predictions when she was 12 years old.

The story makes everyone think, “When I was that age, I didn’t know what I wanted to be, let alone how to make it happen.” This prediction casts Blanchfield as this precocious pre-teen who will bring her dreams into existence.

But when you hear the young star lay out the progression of things, it sounds less like the plot to a cute Disney movie that will detail her rise through the ranks as an inspiring “girls can do it too” tale. However, it’s been more like a logic-driven decision, with a little “it’s better than working a real job” mixed in for good measure.


“I started training when I was seven, so by the time I was 12, I feel like I was pretty used to it; I was already competing, I’d had kickboxing matches and grappling matches,” says Blanchfield, who is now a dozen years removed from that fateful day and on the cusp of title contention I the most prominent promotion in the sport. “I was already fighting, but I wasn’t doing MMA yet.

“Me and my brother were always doing it, we’d train together, and my dad has always been a pretty big UFC fan; he’s been watching it since the ‘90s when it first started. He was actually the one that kind of pushed me to watch it when Miesha Tate and Ronda (Rousey) were fighting. He was like, ‘Erin, look — there’s a girl fight on; you should watch it!’

“I had never watched UFC before that. The guys fighting didn’t really interest me, but then when I saw them fighting, I was like, ‘That is so awesome.’

“The gyms I went to, there were a couple of pro female fighters, so I got to see them, see what they did, and it really interested me. I already loved training, I already loved competing, so once I was old enough to realize, ‘Oh — I can do this for a job; I don’t have to go to an office every day. I can just keep doing this for the rest of my life!’ that’s when it clicked that I was going to do this.

“Ever since then, I’ve pursued it, my family always supported it, and it’s been smooth sailing from there.”

It really has, which makes her stand out as a burgeoning star in the UFC.


Blanchfield first burst on the scene in the grappling world, winning the flyweight tournament at the 12th Eddie Bravo Invitational event, navigating a field that included Talita Alencar and Jena Bishop to take home victory.

Less than a year later, she made her professional mixed martial arts debut, winning by doctor stoppage after the opening round. Her next three fights came under the Invicta FC banner, where she produced wins over Brittney Cloudy and Kay Hansen before suffering her first — and so far only — defeat. In this loss, she dropped a split decision to now-fellow UFC flyweight Tracy Cortez in a fight most observers believe the New Jersey native should have won.

Another win at home for CFFC was followed by two more Invicta FC victories over future UFC competitors Victoria Leonardo and Brogan Walker. Then Blanchfield was called up to the biggest stage in the sport, where she’s since posted six straight wins and risen up the ranks.

Every step along the way, the 24-year-old has appeared unflappable.

When things weren’t going great in her clash with JJ Aldrich, she capitalized on the one mistake the tough veteran made and snatched up her neck. Getting booed at home against McCann? Dirt off her shoulders.

Last year, her first appearance was set to come against Taila Santos, who had pushed Valentina Shevchenko to her limits in their championship clash the previous summer in Singapore. When the Brazilian withdrew and was replaced by former strawweight champ and flyweight title challenger Jessica Andrade, Blanchfield didn’t bat an eye, taking the fight to the diminutive wrecking ball and submitting her 97 seconds into the second round.

Six months later, she faced off with Santos in Singapore, dropping the opening round on all three scorecards before winning the second and third to claim a unanimous decision victory in an effort that showed she’s the kind of fighter that is going to be a handful for anyone in the championship rounds if they manage to get there.


So, does any of her success impact her?

“Maybe a little in the locker room when I get nervous, but most of the time, I feel like this is what it’s supposed to be,” she says when asked about her rise, success, and the twists and turns of her MMA career. “I wanted to do this for so long. Like we talked about, when I was 12, I wanted to be a pro fighter — I saw Ronda and Miesha, I saw what they had to do in their careers and thought it was so cool, so going through what I’m going through since I’ve been in the UFC, I’m embracing it.

"I love everything about it,” continues Blanchfield, beaming. “It can be chaotic, and you don’t know what’s happening, don’t know who you’re fighting, but there is fun in that too. I love being prepared for my fights and everything, but the spontaneous part of everything can be exciting.

“I love everything about this!”

As much as 12-year-olds aren’t generally supposed to know exactly what they want to be when they grow up, 24-year-olds with 13 fights under their belts aren’t usually this rock solid either. Still, the fact is Blanchfield isn’t your typical twenty-something emerging talent.

Her win over Andrade last February elevated her into the Top 5 in the flyweight rankings, and her victory against Santos pushed her a couple of spots higher.


Currently, Blanchfield sits at No. 2 in the UFC Fighter Rankings, and her February encounter with Manon Fiorot in Atlantic City feels like it will crown the next title challenger in the 125-pound weight class.

Despite her rapid ascent and incredible success, Blanchfield has handled it all with aplomb and credits starting as young as she did, helping prepare her for everything currently coming her way.

“I do think starting young definitely helped me, and seeing other fighters in the gyms that I’ve trained at (helped too),” begins the well-spoken and thoughtful title contender. “I was always pretty good at paying attention and was a smart kid about that — I’d see what they would do, how they were training, how their careers were going, and so having that perspective and starting so young gave me an advantage to where once I was here, I had an idea of how things go and how crazy it could be.

“I feel like I learned that mindset in Invicta when I was trying to get into the UFC,” she says when asked about her ability to stay level-headed and not get caught up in any of the peripheral elements that can distract or derail fighters of any age. “You never really know when you’re going to go. You win a couple of fights, and everybody is asking you, ‘When do you wanna get it? When are you gonna get in?’ and you have no idea.

“You have to — you almost need to settle yourself down and not get too hyped about it or too depressed about not being in yet.

“So I feel like going through that, having to learn how to deal with the emotions of ups and downs with that helped me settle. I’m already doing what I want, and I know that winning fights will get me where I want to go. I feel like I’m almost in a similar position now with ‘Am I getting a title fight next or not?’ I feel like I went through that before, so it’s helped prepare me for dealing with this stuff now.

“It’s made it easier for me to be able to settle and take things in a constructive way,” she adds. “It’s funny because I started so young that now I feel like a vet, and I’m only 24; I feel like I’ve been doing it for so long.”


Six fights into her UFC run, Blanchfield stands on the precipice of challenging for the flyweight title, though you won’t hear the New Jersey native campaigning for her opportunity to fight for championship gold.

In fact, you won’t hear much from Blanchfield when it comes to social media or media in general. As the Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt under Karel Pravec, who feels mature beyond her years, she has an old-school approach to her championship candidacy.

“Everybody else should be campaigning for you, and if they’re not, there is probably a reason for that — you haven’t won certain fights, or you haven’t fought the people you should have faced,” says Blanchfield, who dropped less than a hundred posts on Instagram last year. “I feel like I’ve been fighting all the tough people in my division, the Top 5 people, and it’s going to get to the point where it’s undeniable.

“I feel like that’s how it should be!” she quickly answers when asked about many of the sharpest minds in the sport advocating not only for her to receive a championship opportunity but for her top-of-the-division talents as well. “I won the fights to where people feel like I’m the one that is next, and they believe in my skills and abilities.

“I feel like that’s how it should be: you keep winning your fights, and everybody else will campaign for you, and the UFC will notice that.”


People are advocating, and the UFC is certainly taking notice, as she has been paired off with fellow streaking flyweight Manon Fiorot in a must-see pairing that improbably isn’t topping the February 24 fight card in Atlantic City.

Like Blanchfield, the 33-year-old French standout Fiorot has earned six consecutive wins since arriving in the UFC and has only been beaten once, having dropped the professional debut by split decision to Leah McCourt at Cage Warriors 94.

After posting stoppage wins over Leonardo and Tabatha Ricci in her first two outings, “The Beast” has bested a host of legitimate talents on the scorecards over her last four appearances, starting with newly crowned bantamweight champion Mayra Bueno Silva and culminating with a win over two-time strawweight titleholder Rose Namajunas in Paris last September.

Stationed at No. 2 and No. 3 in flyweight rankings, the homecoming event, which is headlined by welterweights Sean Brady and Vicente Luque, should launch the victor into position to challenge for the title in the back half of the year, provided Alexa Grasso and Valentina Shevchenko have resolved their rivalry by that point.

“I was excited when they announced they were gonna have an Atlantic City card because I was like, ‘there is no way they can’t put me on it,’ and then when Dana announced that I was definitely on and I was fighting Manon, I was super-excited,” gushes Blanchfield, who surely won’t get booed when she ventures two hours down the Garden State Parkway to throw down with Fiorot. “Especially with my last fight being in Singapore — I had to fly so far to get there, so it’s nice to get to fight in my home state.”


The fight not being the main event means that Blanchfield will only have three rounds to work, and while that has yet to be an issue inside the Octagon. Arguably, the most significant takeaway from her fight with Santos last summer was that “Cold Blooded” is built for five-round fights.

While the Brazilian contender started strong, Blanchfield was undaunted, accepting the punishment coming back her way and refusing to get discouraged when her initial attempts to bring the fight to the canvas were foiled. As the fight progressed, the combatants moved in opposite directions, Blanchfield gaining confidence and having increased success as Santos began to flag.

By the time the final horn sounded, the American seemed ready — almost hopefully — to go another two rounds, sensing a finish could await her, while her counterpart simply wanted to be done.

“I would love all my fights to be five-round fights,” she says with a smile when asked about her style and approach. “I feel like if I had more five-round fights, I would have even more finishes. I feel like my cardio is built for it. My game is built for it.

“In my last fight, right when the fight ended, I was a little frustrated with it because she was super-tough, she was hard to take down, she strong, she was fast in the first round, but I could feel her breaking down and getting tired, and I knew I was good, I was fine. The last couple seconds of the last round, I was catching her with some good shots, so if we had to go two more, I could have finished her.

“I’m hoping my fight with Manon could be pushed to five rounds,” adds Blanchfield, who has finished half her dozen professional wins thus far. “I know against anybody, they’re not gonna have the cardio I have.”

Do you know when she would have five rounds to work?


In a championship fight, and if things work out in her favor against Fiorot, that should undoubtedly be next.

“My ideal 2024 would be winning my Atlantic City fight against Manon — and that’s what I’m pretty focused on right now. I know that if Alexa and Valentina fight at some point, that will be over, and I feel like I should definitely be the next title contender.

“I can see myself having the title in 2024,” she adds without pausing.

With her fight taking place in February and the trilogy fight between Grasso and Shevchenko still not on the schedule, it might just line up that the second flyweight championship fight of the year could take place in and around November, which would coincide with the UFC’s annual trip to Madison Square Garden.

“Maybe,” Blanchfield says when asked if she’d want her championship opportunity to come to New York City, then pausing to mull over the hypothetical opportunity. “That would be pretty awesome to go and redeem that.

“The last time, I feel like I was getting booed so much, I’d love to go and get cheered,” she adds, smiling at the thought. “I would definitely love to fight at MSG again and get cheered; that’s a goal for sure.”

If that does come to pass, there is only one song she can possibly walk out to, given how things played out last time: Jay-Z, The Black Album, Track 6. Get. That. Dirt off your shoulder.