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UFC 271 - New Blood: AJ and ‘Blood Diamond’

UFC 271 cruises into Toyota Center in Houston, Texas, this Saturday (Feb. 12, 2022) virtually unchanged from when the card first came together, leaving just two newcomers to make their debuts. On this edition of “New Blood,” the series where my inability to embed Fight Pass or ESPN+ videos remains a constant annoyance, we check out a Contender Series graduate with a penchant for quick finishes and City Kickboxing’s latest striking sensation.

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CHAMPIONSHIP TRILOGY! Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to The O2 in London England, on Sat., March 18, 2023, with newly-minted Welterweight kingpin, Leon Edwards, running it back with former 170-pound champion, Kamaru Usman, for a third (and likely final) time. In UFC 286’s pay-per-view (PPV) co-main event, all-action Lightweight knockout artists, Justin Gaethje and Rafael Fiziev, will lock horns with the winner inching closer to a future Lightweight title shot.

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A.J. Dobson

Weight Class: Middleweight
Age: 30
Record: 6-0 (2 KO, 3 SUB)
Notable Victories: Hashem Arkhagha, Kailan Hill

Dobson — who had his first amateur bout way back in 2012 — ended a two-year layoff by smashing Contender Series veteran Kailan Hill in just 35 seconds. He joined that program himself 10 months later, tapping Hashem Arkhagha to end a wild one-round firefight and secure a contract.

Honestly, Dobson wins too quickly for me to make any authoritative statements about his abilities, but I’ll give it a shot. He’s a wild slugger with some real power and a willingness to trade heat until someone falls over, plus a decent body lock takedown if he ever wants to mix things up. Should he end up on top, his 77-inch reach allows him to dish out some impressively hard punches even from guard, and he’s got enough of a squeeze to complete a no-hook, rear-naked choke on an experienced Brazilian jiu-jitsu player.

Aside from that, he doesn’t really move his head much and definitely loops his punches a lot more than he should. He’s got solid timing, though. Indeed, he dropped Hill with a counter right in the opening seconds and caught a body kick not long after. Plus, he had enough gas to go berserk for almost a full round against Arkhagha, which is promising.

The physical gifts are definitely there, but he still needs a whole lot of seasoning to tighten up his hands. I’d have given him another year or two on the regional circuit, though the fact that he’s already 30 may make a trial by fire the correct course of action.

Opponent: He meets the sorely underrated Jacob Malkoun. Malkoun’s got an excellent grappling pedigree, sharper boxing, and handily dominated another brawling power-puncher in Abdul Razak Alhassan last time out. In the end, Dobson could clip him, but it’s likelier that Malkoun out-techniques him everywhere.


Mike “Blood Diamond” Mathetha

Weight Class: Welterweight
Age: 32
Record: 3-0 (1 KO, 1 SUB) MMA, 51-14 Kickboxing
Notable Victories: None

Mathetha enjoyed a lengthy and successful kickboxing career before turning his focus full-time to mixed martial arts (MMA). His most recent effort saw him defeat Dimps Gillies via unanimous decision in Feb. 2020.

“Blood Diamond” is the latest City Kickboxing standout to join the world’s largest MMA promotion, but while his striking style definitely shares some DNA with Israel Adesanya, he’s a unique and destructive stand up artist in his own right. His hands-low, kick-heavy offense is the right kind of unorthodox, preying on opponents’ expectations to deliver blows from surprising distances, angles and timings.

Mathetha just has a ton of fun tricks for setting up those kicks. He does the “Peter Aerts Special” of throwing head kicks on the break, can combo into low or head kicks from basic jabs and crosses, adds little pauses between strikes to throw off the timing, and has good enough balance to throw things like tornado kicks as counters. There’s no safe distance or safe position against him. In fact, I’ve seen him land a head kick while his opponent was in the middle of a lengthy flurry, and he regularly fires them from punching distance thanks to his flexibility.

He’s not quite as much of a menace in close, though. His punches can be countered when they’re not used to bolster his kicks, and while he can do damage getting into and out of the clinch, he can seemingly be controlled on the fence without a ton of issue. That tendency to kick from punching range, including spinning stuff, also opens him up to clinches. When he does get hit, he often likes to run along the cage before trying to spin, which can be a bit predictable.

Wrestling-wise, he’s willing to change levels for reaction shots, though I’ve yet to see him land one. Of the two takedowns I’ve seen him give up, he reversed into a back take and rear-naked choke on one and scrambled back to his feet within about 30 seconds on the other. Definitely good signs, though we’ve yet to see him go up against a top-notch wrestler.

If Mathetha’s takedown defense catches up to Adesanya’s, he could be a real threat, though I think aggressive boxers are going to give him some problems if he can’t shore up his distance management. That said, I’m happy to tune into any of his fights — he’s one-of-a-kind and tons of fun.

Opponent: He takes on Jeremiah Wells, a late replacement for the injured Orion Cosce. Wells is sloppy on the feet, but a skilled grappler, making him a solid test for Mathetha. I think “Blood Diamond” can clip him, but don’t be too surprised if Wells capitalizes on an ill-advised spin and drags him to the mat for a finish.

Tape: His bout with Gillies is on Fight Pass.

Remember that will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 271 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV. Bet on UFC 271 at DraftKings Sportsbook.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC 271: “Adesanya vs. Whittaker 2” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

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