There was nothing wrong with John ‘Hands of Stone’ Lineker in terms of performances when he first graced the Octagon.
Having claimed the Jungle Fight bantamweight title in September 2011, Lineker was asked to drop down to flyweight for his UFC debut against Louis Gaudinot. Although his first trip to the Octagon in May 2012 wasn’t a success, Gaudinot finished the Brazilian with a guillotine choke in the second round, ‘Hands of Stone’ would soon live up to his name for his new employers.
A decision win over Yasuhiro Urushitani got him into the win column in Macau six months later. It was during Lineker’s first bout on home soil in May 2013 that we really got to see what he was all about. The crowd in Jaraguá do Sul roared from the stands as Lineker’s dynamic punching ability kept Azamat Gashimov guessing. Just beyond the opening minute of the second round, a body shot dropped the Russian and grounded strikes finished him shortly after.
The first of multiple missed weigh-ins came when Lineker was scheduled to meet José Maria Tomé at UFC 163. The bout was contested at 129 lbs after Lineker failed to hit the mark, but the talk of his failure on the scales was quickly forgotten when he put Maria away four seconds quicker than he did Gashimov.
The MMA universe collectively lifted their eyebrows when Lineker missed weight again ahead of his meeting with Phil Harris for their bout at UFC Manchester in October 2013. The patented body shot that dropped Harris went on to become one of Lineker’s finest highlight reel moments, but afterward Dana White insisted that had the Brazilian made weight in his last two fights, he would have already been given a title shot.
Lineker made weight for his next bout against Ali Bagautinov, the winner of which would go on to face Demetrious Johnson. Yet, the Russian completely stifled the knockout artist’s attacks to win a unanimous decision.
Frustrating Flyweight Contender
We were all a little bit disappointed when Lineker lost out on his chances of a clash with Demetrious Johnson. His stopping power made him a genuine threat as long as the fight was still being contested, and the news that Bagautinov pissed hot for EPO following his unsuccessful title shot added insult to injury.
It seemed as though ‘Hands of Stone’ had turned a corner when he next graced the Octagon against Alptekin Özkılıç. Having come in on weight, many doubted his gas tank, but Lineker grew as the bout went on and finished his opponent with an abundance of left hooks just before the final bell.
It was all set up for Lineker to take his spot as number one contender when he eventually met Ian McCall in January 2015, after their first date was postponed after both fighters made weight due to an injury to the American. Despite winning by decision when the bout eventually went down, Dana White demanded that Lineker continued under the promotional banner as a bantamweight due to his inability to make weight for the bout. Missing weight for McCall was Lineker's third time in six UFC tests to not hit the scales within the flyweight limit.
Back Home at Bantamweight
Nobody really knew how Lineker felt about being forced to move up a weight category, but ahead of his first outing in the division against Francisco Rivera, he insisted his future lay at 135 lbs.
“This is my original weight class. I only joined flyweight because it was an opportunity I couldn't miss.” Lineker told Ag Fight. “But now I’m back. I want to focus on the new goal, I want to win and be the champion. I’m never going back to 125 pounds. I suffer too much. My power will increase because I will be heavier and stronger. My opponents will be heavier, but I'm used to that. I'm home.”
One of the greatest fights of the year for 2015, Rivera stood in the pocket and traded with Lineker. Swaying violently after the last exchange, a pinpoint shot from the Brazilian saw Rivera dive in for a takedown, from which Lineker caught a fight-finishing guillotine.
Against Rob Font at UFC 198, Lineker showcased his dynamic striking against a taller opponent and also showcased an elevated level of stamina as he dominated over three rounds.
With his momentum steadily building in the new category, a chance to enter the championship fray comes tonight when he faces Michael MacDonald in the main event of UFC Sioux Falls.
A former title contender, Michael ‘Mayday’ MacDonald returned after two years on the sidelines due to several surgeries to claim a second round rear naked choke submission over Masanori Kanehara at UFC 195.
The 25-year-old has only lost out to two of the best fighters to ever compete at 135 lbs, Renan Barao and Urijah Faber, and should Lineker be able to join that esteemed club, he could be on his way to a title shot at bantamweight.
‘Mayday’ is in no way a given for ‘Hands of Stone’ to put away. However, should he be able to put a stamp on the victory, there will be a lot of fans clamoring to see his aggressive striking pitted against the proponents of the neo-footwork movement at the top of the bracket.
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