Welcome to KEYlock! Named after the keylock submission, KEYlock is a weekly article that highlights one non-main event bout from the upcoming UFC fight card, and explores why it deserves your attention.
The upcoming weekend hosts UFC 271, an absolutely stacked fight card headlined by the highly anticipated rematch between Israel Adesanya and Robert Whittaker.
Selecting a single fight from such a sensational fight card was a difficult process. Indeed, the card features a mouthwatering matchup between Jared Cannonier and Derek Brunson, the highly entertaining Kyler Phillips versus Marcelo Rojo, and undefeated Women’s Flyweight prospect Casey O’Neill versus veteran Roxanne Modafferi in her final MMA bout. However, my KEYlock for UFC 271 is A.J. Dobson vs Jacob Malkoun. The reason? The promotional debut of A.J. Dobson.
Fighting out of Powell, Ohio, 30-year-old A.J. Dobson has built an impressive curriculum vitae since turning professional in 2016. Holding a 6-0 (1 NC) professional record, the American has finished five of his opponents inside the first round. At Strikehard Productions 57, Dobson delivered a 35-second KO of 4-1 Kailan Hill. Dobson preceded that fight with a 24-second rear-naked choke submission of the experienced Wesley Golden at Honor FC 6. Collectively, the fight-time for Dobson’s first four stoppage victories is 3 minutes 42 seconds. Only once has Dobson gone the distance. However, it is Dobson’s contract winning performance on Dana White’s Contender Series, against Jordanian Hashem Arkhagha, that truly demonstrates the potential of this prospect.
To fully appreciate the standard of Dobson’s DWCS performance, a few things must be understood about his opponent. Firstly, Hashem Arkhagha entered the bout undefeated, holding a perfect 6-0 professional record; all six victories were by way of stoppage (4 KO/TKO, 2 submissions), four of which came inside the first round. Secondly, Arkhagha had proven resilience, having showcased a phenomenal chin. Thirdly, Arkhagha officially weighed in 4.5lbs heavier than Dobson for their bout, missing the 186lbs limit by 3 pounds.
Both Dobson and Arkhagha came out swinging heavy at the opening of their bout, with Dobson dropping Arkhagha to the canvas before taking top position. The position looked to opportune Arkhagha an armbar, although Dobson clearly foresaw the threat and broke free, before raining heavy hammer fists. Dobson took a dominant top side control, once more raining heavy shots on Arkhagha. As the fight returned to the feet, Dobson connected with some heavy shots; whilst Arkhagha attempted to flee, Dobson maintained pursuit and rocked Arkhagha with a heavy right. With Arkhagha against the fence, Dobson blitzed his opponent with a flurry of heavy right shots, before obtaining a takedown to return Arkhagha up against the fence. From this position, it appeared as though Dobson was cruising towards a TKO stoppage as he mercilessly delivered endless heavy right shots. However, Dobson transitioned to secure a tight rear-naked choke submission at 4 minutes 21 seconds of the first round.
Arkhagha was a formidable opponent, one which the oddsmakers themselves deemed as an evenly matched opponent for Dobson. However, Dobson delivered a superior performance (not to mention thoroughly entertaining) that left no doubt he would earn a contract with the UFC. Dana White himself, speaking of Dobson before awarding a contract, said “Hashem didn’t make weight, and A.J. could care less that he didn’t make weight, he came here to fight… I like this kid’s attitude”.
Looking ahead to UFC 271 this weekend, Dobson faces a game opponent in Australian Jacob Malkoun. Holding a 5-1 professional record, the 26-year-old had a dismal promotional debut after an 18-second KO loss to Phil Hawes. However, Malkoun silenced the doubters and showcased his potential on his return, with a dominant unanimous decision victory over Ghanaian knockout artist Abdul Razak Alhassan, in his second (and latest) octagon appearance.
The oddsmakers see Dobson as a slight favourite for his matchup with Malkoun this weekend; indeed, Dobson will boast a 4” height advantage, and 3” reach advantage. Should Dobson emerge victorious this weekend, don’t be surprised to hear a call-out for Bryan Battle, winner of The Ultimate Fighter Season 29. Prior to his opportunity to feature on DWCS, Dobson was supposedly scheduled to feature on Season 29 of The Ultimate Fighter. Following Battle’s victory over Tresean Gore this past weekend, it is a matchup which will have only heightened Dobson’s desire to prove that had he featured on The Ultimate Fighter, he would’ve been champion.
There is always a sense of excitement when a fighter makes their highly anticipated UFC debut undefeated. In this instance, there is also something poetic in A.J. Dobson making his promotional debut at UFC 271, starring on the undercard as a new Middleweight prospect, with the Middleweight mainstays of Derek Brunson, Jared Cannonier, Robert Whittaker, and Israel Adesanya all featuring on the main card.
Make sure to watch this prospect in action at UFC 271, this weekend!
Please note, this article is an opinion piece, and solely the opinion of the author.