Professional athletes competing at the highest level of their sport can do things that the rest of us can’t imagine doing. In 2021, Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Max Kranick made his Major League Baseball debut in a short-notice start against the St. Louis Cardinals. All he did was throw five perfect innings before a rainstorm forced him from the game.
Few professional athletes, though, must face the challenges that UFC fighters regularly accept.
The latest example comes in the main event Saturday of UFC Vegas 69 at Apex in Las Vegas when Erin Blanchfield faces Jessica Andrade in a five-round flyweight bout.
Blanchfield, a 23-year-old who is developing into one of the UFC’s finest prospects, pretty much shrugged when her original opponent, Taila Santos, withdrew from their fight a week out and Andrade agreed to take the bout.
It was a different opponent with a different style that she hadn’t had an opportunity to prepare for, but like so many of her peers have done over the years, Blanchfield said yes without giving it much thought.
“My manager called me and told me Taila was out and Andrade was willing to take the fight,” Blanchfield said Wednesday at media day. “I was down right away. I’d already put in all the work and I really wanted to fight. Taila’s a tough opponent. Andrade’s a tough opponent. Everybody’s tough, and I didn’t really care. I was just happy to get a fight.”
Blanchfield wasn’t the only one who took a risk. Andrade is a veteran and far more accomplished, but she’s gunning for a shot at the strawweight title against Zhang Weili. Andrade lost her title to Zhang in China in 2019 and is looking to regain it.
Andrade is 4-1 in her last five with the only loss to superstar flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko. Most significantly in terms of taking a fight with Blanchfield on short notice is the fact she just fought less than a month ago, dominating Lauren Murphy and winning a one-sided decision at UFC 283 on Jan. 21 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
She’s lost only four times in the last seven years, against 11 wins. All of those defeats came against former world champions (Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Zhang, Rose Namajunas and Shevchenko). She’s positioned well for an eventual shot at Zhang later this year, so she took a big risk in accepting the Blanchfield fight.
But she was on weight and in good shape, so she also said yes.
“I was eager to fight and I only had one fight last year,” Andrade said. “But of course, I’ll fight as many times as I can. And the camp [for the Murphy bout] prepared me for this fight.”
The fact that both women accepted the offer without taking as much as an hour to mull over the positives and negatives says so much about them, as it does about their peers who do this on a regular basis.
To be a professional fighter requires a lot of things, but self-belief is high on that list of prerequisites. It would have been easy for, say, Blanchfield to decline and wait until the Santos fight could have been rearranged. She jumped into the UFC’s flyweight rankings at No. 10 after a hugely impressive victory over Molly McCann in November at UFC 281 in Madison Square Garden in New York.
Santos is eighth in the UFC’s pound-for-pound rankings, so that fight was a big leap up for her. Andrade is ranked seventh pound-for-pound, so while it may not seem like a big difference, the styles are vastly different.
The best fighters in the world tend to have a self-belief that defies description and they take on these crazy challenges because they not only understand the reward, but they have few doubts of their ability to pull anything off.
The reward for Blanchfield figures to be huge. Murphy is sixth at flyweight after having been beaten by Andrade at UFC 283. If Blanchfield defeats Andrade, who is third at flyweight even though she plans to chase the strawweight belt, it’s not inconceivable that she’ll jump up into sixth position in the division at a minimum.
At the end of the day, there’s a simple reason so many of these fighters take these challenges on short notice when they might be tactically better off waiting: They are driven by competition and want to prove they’re the best. And given the fact that fighters don’t get paid if they don’t fight, that always figures into it, as well.
It’s really as simple to so many of them, though, as loving what they do and believing completely in themselves.
“I just love to fight,” Blanchfield said. “So why not?”