Erin Blanchfield thought referee would be in trouble for not stopping Molly McCann fight sooner

At UFC 281, Erin Blanchfield was ready to gruesomely injure Molly McCann if she had to. She didn’t necessarily want to, however.

Pinning McCann with a crucifix in the first round of their preliminary-card bout, Blanchfield got the opportunity to damage her opponent. She obliged with a flurry of elbows, but that didn’t seem enough to convince referee Kevin MacDonald to stop the fight.

“At one point, I was able to create a little distance and elbow her,” Blanchfield said Monday on The MMA Hour. “She was moving and bucking, so in retrospect, I can see why they didn’t stop it. But I remember in the moment being like, ‘How many times can I punch her unanswered before they can stop this fight?’

“I know she was kind of OK, but I saw her face grimacing; she was kind of making a little bit of noise, because I was hitting her a lot, as hard as I could, from that position. So I do remember thinking, ‘How many times is this is even allowed? Is he going to get in trouble for letting me hit her this many times?’”

The pro-McCann crowd at Madison Square Garden cheered when McCann, beet-red from all the shots, briefly escaped the position. They had booed Blanchfield as she walked into the arena; the UK flyweight came into the bout riding high on back-to-back spinning-elbow knockouts, buoyed by her alliance with breakout star Paddy Pimblett. UFC 281 might have been a career-making moment, though fans with money to bet put it on Blanchfield.

“I remember almost laughing in my own head – they were like, ‘Ah!’” Blanchfield remembers. “And I was like, ‘She is not safe at all.’”

In any event, she had prepared herself for the possibility that McCann would be difficult to put away. She just didn’t think she would get an assist from officials, so when she subsequently secured a kimura, she bent McCann’s arm to the point of no return.

“I remember even before the fight thinking I was probably going to have to choke her unconscious,” Blanchfield said. “I didn’t think she was going to tap from an armbar or a kimura or something like that, but in the fight it was still there, and I knew that I had the position in so tight, I was almost waiting to see if she would let it pop.

“I’ve popped other people’s shoulders, so I know what it feels like. She let it get pretty close. … I was prepared to dislocate her arm, and then the ref probably would have had to stop it between rounds, but then she tapped.”

In discussions about how to differentiate herself from her opposition, a younger Blanchfield had discussed a post-fight move that might be a signature to the fans. As she walked away from McCann, it came naturally: a brush of the shoulders. No big deal.

“I had control of the fight the whole time,” she said. “I knew that submission was super locked in. Honestly, it was easy, so it was my natural reaction.”

From the moment the bout was announced, Blanchfield was surprised the UFC made the matchup. McCann, ranked No. 15 in the UFC’s list (and unranked in the MMA Fighting Global Rankings) might have looked at her No. 12 number and jumped. To fight not far from home – she’s originally from Elwood Park, N.J. – on a major pay-per-view at Madison Square Garden was just fine with her.

“I wasn’t sure who they were going to ask me to fight next,” Blanchfield said. “When they asked me to fight Molly, it was definitely a little bit of a surprise. She was on a good run. But maybe she was asking for somebody higher in the rankings. I’m not sure what she was thinking on her part, but it was a great fight for me.”

What comes next, in Blanchfield’s mind, is a shot at an opponent in the top-10, and after that, one in the top-five. Whatever the audience thought about her performance, it certainly gave her a boost in visibility, and that’s often the difference between another middle-of-the-pack fighter and a legitimate title threat.

Blanchfield is still working on her popularity. She doesn’t have a mop-haired sidekick. What she does have is a vicious ground game that potentially looks very interesting against the division’s champion, Valentina Shevchenko.

She can handle a few hecklers on the way to that fight.

“It was my first time ever getting booed, so it was definitely a new experience, and something I knew was bound to come at some point in fighting,” Blanchfield said. “I feel like I handled it really well, and it kind of gave me an extra push to get that win.”