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Erin Blanchfield: Valentina Shevchenko’s grappling is ‘very, very basic,’ could ‘use some improvement’

Erin Blanchfield now considers herself the de facto No. 1 contender in the women’s flyweight division, and she’s anxiously awaiting the next title fight between Valentina Shevchenko and Alexa Grasso at UFC 285.

Following a dominant win over Jessica Andrade at UFC Vegas 69, Blanchfield rocketed up MMA Fighting’s flyweight rankings, with only the champion left ahead of her. While Shevchenko still has to handle business with Grasso on March 4, Blanchfield will be waiting in the wings to challenge the winner.

“I think this fight put me right in line for the next title shot,” Blanchfield said on The MMA Hour. “Taila [Santos] was supposed to fight me and she pulled out at the last minute and then Manon [Fiorot] is hurt for a while. Valentina and Grasso are literally fighting in a week and a half or so. Having me fight for the title next just makes sense.

“I definitely do [think I’m ready],” she added. “I’ve built up a little bit of experience in the UFC. I know where my skill is at and I know if I have a full training camp and I break down whoever I’ll be fighting for that title, I’ll beat anybody.”

Blanchfield has repeatedly said she wants to be the person to dethrone Shevchenko, who is currently the longest-reigning champion on the entire UFC roster, preparing to defend her title for the eighth consecutive time.

Some have suggested that Shevchenko is starting to lose a step, especially after going to a split decision with Taila Santos in her previous outing, but Blanchfield doesn’t believe that’s actually the case.

“I think people are definitely making a little bit much of it,” Blanchfield said. “I don’t know if she’s on the decline. I think it was just that Taila had a good style against Valentina. She’s probably the best grappler that Valentina had fought, and she’s just a physically big girl. I think she was bigger than Valentina in there, so it was easier for her to impose her will on her a little bit.

“I don’t necessarily think she’s on the decline. I just think it’s showing a little bit of the holes she does have. Taila just did good job of using that to her advantage. I don’t think you’ll see a similar fight with Grasso because Grasso just doesn’t have that style or that size to put Valentina. You’ll probably see something similar to her older fights.”

Perhaps the most interesting part about her analysis is Shevchenko’s perceived weakness on the ground might play directly into what Blanchfield does best.

The 23-year-old fighter from New Jersey has displayed an incredibly dominant grappling game with three submission wins in the UFC, including finishes over Andrade and Molly McCann in her past two appearances.

“Valentina, I don’t think it’s any secret her striking is very good,” Blanchfield explained. “Her Muay Thai is very crisp. She even has some decent body lock takedowns. But I think on the actual floor, her jiu-jitsu, it’s not bad. It’s just very, very basic.

“I don’t think she has many submissions. I don’t think she can get out of certain positions very well, like what we saw against Taila. I kind of think that’s where her game is the most basic and probably could use some improvement.”

While Shevchenko actually has several submission wins and finishes on the ground during her UFC career, Blanchfield still likes her chances in those positions.

Of course, Blanchfield won’t shy away from engaging with Shevchenko anywhere the fight might take them, but she’s well aware of her greatest advantage in that potential fight.

“I know I could fight with Valentina anywhere, but against anybody in the flyweight division, I know that my jiu-jitsu is better,” Blanchfield said. “I can finish anybody.”

As it stands, Blanchfield doesn’t know if she’ll be cageside for UFC 285 in Las Vegas, although she likes the idea of sitting right there to watch Shevchenko and Grasso go to war.

Obviously, Blanchfield already believes she’s next in line if Shevchenko wins, and ideally that would allow her the opportunity to become one of the youngest champions in UFC history.

“I plan on it,” Blanchfield said. “If I get that title shot next, yes definitely [I will be champion].”

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