The Fresh Faces of UFC 271
A look at the two fighters making their promotional debut at UFC 271: Adesanya vs. Whittaker II
UFC 271 is looking like a belter of a card, even more so if you’re a fight-fan from the land(s) down under like myself. As a result of the stacked nature of the pay-per-view card though, we’re left with just a duo of debuting fighters this weekend, a far cry from the eight (or was it nine?) from UFC 270 a few weeks ago.
However, what we lack in quantity, we make up for in quality with these two gentlemen. Both lads are experienced beyond what their pro MMA records would have you believe, and could both very well prove to eventually become ranked contenders in their respective divisions.
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BLOOD DIAMOND - 3-0
1 KO/1 SUB/1 DEC
New Zealand via Zimbabwe
A day that many in the Oceanic region’s tight-knit MMA scene have been waiting for draws near. On Sunday, February 13, local time, Mike Mathetha makes his UFC debut, opening the preliminary card for UFC 271, with a professional MMA record of just 3-0.
It’s possible you’ve not heard him called by his aforementioned given name, but his pseudonym “Blood Diamond” rings bells across the southern hemisphere’s premier kickboxing and MMA promotions.
To look only at his professional mixed martial art’s record gives a distorted view of his overall combat sports experience; though to be fair, even looking at his (verified) kickboxing record of 51-14 still omits parts of the story, as Blood Diamond and the team at City Kickboxing claim he has over one-hundred fights worth of experience to his name (kickboxing or otherwise).
It was back in 2014 when the Zimbabwe-born Blood Diamond started gaining some recognition in the combat sport’s scene in New Zealand. That year he competed in one of the premier kickboxing tournaments in the country, King In the Ring, an eight-man, one-night tournament. His first two opponents that night were quickly dispatched in the first round, while in the finals Blood Diamond fought to a unanimous decision win to claim the championship belt.
The next few years saw Blood Diamond hone his striking skills further, relocating to China alongside teammate Israel Adesanya to compete (sometimes twice a week) in kickboxing bouts, where he built the majority of his record.
In 2020 Blood Diamond competed in his most recent MMA fight at Eternal MMA 50 in Australia, shortly afterwards taking out his second King In The Ring Tournament to close out that year; and has continued to stay busy with kickboxing bouts here and there since.
As far as his fighting style goes, it’s… difficult to describe. Diamond’s movement and timing seem unpredictable - he has an ability to land strikes from the most unorthodox angles with heavy nap time power - as an example, he’s finished multiple fights with a lead leg roundhouse kick to the head, that he manages to set up and throw from inside the clinch, usually off of body shots.
Complimenting the mind-boggling array of strikes in his repertoire is Blood Diamond’s aggressive forward pressure. He’ll often overwhelm opponents with a barrage of strikes, leaving them little time to make any reads. The negative side to this sort of style is that when Diamond overcommits on a strike, he’ll often leave himself in a horrible defensive position that a highly experienced opponent would take advantage of; though Diamond has shown that his chin is capable of taking a few big knocks.
There are some questions that still need answers, however, one of which is how good his cardio is inside the cage. Though Diamond spent a stint at Team Oyama in California to sharpen up his grappling skills before this debut, that area remains the most untested aspect of his skill set and is where most strikers will have their gas tank tested by any fighter worth their salt in the UFC.
To conclude, it’s fair to say that (for the Oceanic region at least) this is one of the most anticipated UFC debuts of the year. Blood Diamond has all the makings of a superstar in the sport, and an impressive win on one of the most anticipated pay-per-view cards of the year might just help propel that momentum even further.
AJ DOBSON - 6-0
2 KO/3 SUB/1 DEC
An impressive streak of first-round finishes (minus one lonely unanimous decision) dating back to 2016 brought AJ Dobson into the scope of the UFC brass, who in 2021 gave him a shot at earning a spot on the roster on Dana White’s Contender Series.
After a wild opening minute in the first round that saw both fighters eat heavy blows to the head, AJ’s chin proved to be the more durable, as his Russian dance partner collapsed under a barrage of strikes as he turned his back trying to escape. Dobson, not content just pummelling his opponent, attempts and eventually secures a rear-naked choke, with no hooks needed to force the submission.
While this fifth first-round finish on his record was enough to earn Dobson his contract, it certainly left a lot to be desired in regards to defensive responsibility and technical skill, leaving fans unsure of his potential. Dobson went on record after the fight to state that the reason he fought as reckless as he had, was in order to secure a finish and cement his chances at a UFC contract.
His fight previous to that DWCS bout, though again ending in the first round, showcases much more patience and calculated movement. Dobson ultimately found the finish via good striking technique rather than pure aggression, against a talented opponent in Kailan Hill. Having trained in mixed martial arts for over a decade - a majority of that time spent at Westside Barbell under the tutelage of Hall of Famer Mark Coleman, and UFC legend Matt Brown - it doesn’t seem likely that sloppy performances like the DWCS bout will be commonplace going forward for Dobson.
If AJ Dobson can manage to keep fights at his range and avoid absolute fire-fights such as the one that earned him his contract, his power and pedigree will make him a prospect to watch in the middleweight division.