A.J. Dobson let his actions speak, and they spoke loudly.
The Strong Style Fight Team standout was one of four competitors to land Ultimate Fighting Championship contracts on Week 4 of Dana White’s Contender Series, as he submitted Hashem Arkhagha with a rear-naked choke in the first round of their middleweight feature on Tuesday at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. Arkhagha (6-1) conceded defeat 4:21 into Round 1.
Dobson (6-0)—who was cornered by UFC hall of famer Mark Coleman—trusted his hands against the Jordanian, engaged him in a firefight and dropped him with a volley of power punches. After a prolonged ground exchange that had Arkhagha on the brink of being stopped, the two men were back on their feet. Dobson fired away with power punches, moved into a dominant position on the turtled K Dojo Warrior Tribe product and applied his ground-and-pound before snaking his arms in place for the fight-ending choke.
In addition to Dobson, UFC President Dana White awarded contracts to former Jungle Fight champion Kleydson Rodrigues, undefeated Entram Gym prospect Michael Morales and Fortis MMA’s Victor Martinez.
A vast array of high-impact weaponry carried Rodrigues (7-1) to a unanimous decision over Santo Curatolo in a three-round flyweight battle. The polished Brazilian swept the scorecards with matching 30-27 marks from all three judges.
Curatolo (6-2) was out of his depth. Rodrigues unleashed a variety of techniques, from wheel kicks, jumping switch kicks and flying knees to close-range knee strikes, jab-cross combinations and spinning backfists. The Team Nogueira prospect controlled the center of the cage like a seasoned veteran, used feints to keep Curatolo off-balance and attacked his base with brutal inside leg kicks. Rodrigues conceded a few takedowns to the Catone MMA rep but managed to return to his feet without issue, at which point he resumed his assault.
Rodrigues, 25, now finds himself on a six-fight winning streak.
Meanwhile, Morales (12-0) kept his perfect professional record intact when he laid claim to a unanimous decision over Nikolay Veretennikov in a three-round welterweight showcase. The Ecuadorian swept the scorecards with 29-28, 29-28 and 30-27 marks from the judges.
Veretennikov (9-4) enjoyed some initial success, but his effectiveness waned as the match moved forward. Morales executed a takedown inside the first minute of the second round, took a bite out of the Kings MMA product with his ground-and-pound. He dazed Veretennikov with a left hook later in the middle stanza, swarmed with punches and scrambled to his back in a kneeling position before letting his fists fly again. Morales dictated the terms of their exchanges in Round 3, on the feet and on the ground. He iced the victory with an exquisite belly-to-back suplex and subsequent ground-and-pound.
The defeat snapped Veretennikov’s run of consecutive victories at eight.
Elsewhere, Martinez (13-4) overcame a slow start to nail down a unanimous decision over Jacob Rosales in a three-round lightweight encounter. All three cageside judges scored it 29-28.
Rosales (13-7) tore into the Fury Fighting Championship titleholder with leg kicks and hooks to the head and body from both hands throughout a largely one-sided first round. He sat down Martinez with a two-punch combination near the end of the period and followed with ground-and-pound for a potential finish. Those hopes burned out at the bell. Martinez emerged from the intermission with a renewed sense of purpose. He zeroed in on Rosales with left hooks, increased his activity level and slowly seized control of the match. A back-and-forth third round appeared to be up for grabs—Rosales fought through what was later revealed to be a broken arm—until the waning seconds, when Martinez executed a tactical takedown and punctuated his performance.
Martinez has rattled off seven consecutive victories.
Finally, Fortis MMA rep Steven Nguyen outstruck previously unbeaten Ultimate Battle Grounds champion Theo Rlayang to a unanimous decision in a three-round featherweight attraction. All three cageside judges struck scorecards for Nguyen (8-1): 29-27, 29-27 and 30-26.
Rlayang (5-1) failed to navigate the four-inch height and eight-inch reach disadvantages with which he was presented. Nguyen backed him to the fence and cut loose with punches but fought at a leisurely pace and never showed a willingness to break out of his comfort zone. Instead, he extended his lead with his hands, connected with the occasional leg kick and benefitted from a third-round point deduction due to an inadvertent eye poke.
Nguyen has won back-to-back bouts since he suffered his first professional setback—a knockout loss to Aalon Cruz during Season 3 of Dana White’s Contender Series.