Octagon Oracles: AJ Fletcher

Grade: B-

After earning a victory on Contender Series 2021 with a highlight-reel flying knee, welterweight AJ Fletcher will debut on Saturday against Matt Semelsberger.

The Louisiana native has managed to compile a perfect 9-0 record after only turning pro in 2019, and he also went 7-3 as an amateur from 2016-2019. That high rate of activity has likely been aided by his finishing skills, as he’s only gone the distance once as a pro and has particularly made a habit of earning first-round finishes in his last few fights.

Fletcher clearly possesses some impressive athleticism, and those physical gifts were on display with the flying knee he used to stop Leonardo Damiani on Contender Series and earn a UFC contract. While he’s not much of a combination puncher, Fletcher will regularly switch stances and throw feints in order to try to set up strikes with his favored right hand. His love for that right hand can result in overextension when he misses (as it did when he threw it in the opening moments of his fight with Damiani) but when it lands he’s capable of knocking opponents out cold. Fletcher also works hard kicks to the lead leg, and typically has been good at circling out and away when opponents try to back him up.

When “The Ghost” does get backed up and starts eating punches, he’s shown off a well-timed double leg to get himself out of trouble and quickly reestablish control of his fights. While his guard passing and striking from top position may not be the most active in the world, he’s looked quite strong when he does get on top and has largely been able to control his opponents there. Fletcher does have four consecutive submission victories from his last four fights before Contender Series, but it has to be noted that the way he finished Wesley Golden and Ariel Juarez looked to be more about his strength than his technical acumen in executing those chokes.

On the subject of Golden and Juarez, they respectively held records of 9-17 and 3-4 at the time of their bouts with Fletcher. His pro record includes another three opponents that had sub-.500 records at the time they fought him, and Leonardo Damiani was easily the most accomplished fighter he’s faced in his career. Although his finish over Damiani was impressive, the overall level of competition Fletcher has faced is a bit of a concern. As with any fighter that has made a career of quick of finishes, it will also be interesting to see what kind of a gas tank Fletcher has in longer fights against a higher level of opposition.

With all of that in mind, Matt Semelsberger is a tough opponent to debut against. He’s 3-1 in the UFC and has shown off his power with quick finishes of Jason Witt and Martin Sano, but he’s also gone the distance with Khaos Williams and Carlton Minus. While “Semi the Jedi” may not quite be able to match Fletcher’s explosiveness he’ll certainly be dangerous if Fletcher is too reckless, and he’ll also have the clear experience advantage the longer the fight goes on.

At twenty-five years old and with so much athletic talent, Fletcher clearly has potential if he continues to develop well. That development will have to come at a much quicker rate now that he’s in the UFC and will be matched with a higher caliber of competition, and there’s a chance that this UFC opportunity may be coming a little bit too soon for him. He currently trains at Gladiators MMA in his native Louisiana, but depending on how his first fight or two in the UFC goes I’d love to see him move to a bigger camp that could help him make the best use of his physical attributes.

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