October 9, 2016

UFC Fight Night 96: John Lineker Is the Challenger Bantamweight Needs

By Raphael Garcia

At UFC Fight Night 96, John Lineker picked up what many would believe to be the biggest win of his career when he took a split decision victory over John Dodson. This intriguing back and forth battle saw each man displaying the skills that make him a dangerous threat to any opponent. Yet Lineker squeaked out a win on two scorecards and has solidified himself as a contender to the bantamweight title.

However, conquering that mountain is another task in and of itself. Dominick Cruz has proven that he’s the best 135-pound fighter in the sport. Even after spending much of the last four years on the shelf he was able to recapture his title at UFC Fight Night 81 via a split decision win over TJ Dillashaw.

With his latest win, Lineker slides into the conversation about the next man to face Cruz for the title, but that fight shouldn't be booked next. Scheduling a bout between Dillashaw and Lineker would create a true title eliminator contest. A victory for either man cements that individual as the number one contender at 135 pounds. But regardless of whether Lineker faces Dillashaw or challenges the champion, there remains the question of how Lineker would secure the win.

One thing is known for sure: Lineker is going to keep coming forward and throwing fight-stopping haymakers. Both Dillashaw and Cruz are well known for their movement, footwork, and defense, an effective counter for a fighter that creates such immense pressure as Lineker. For example, Lineker’s ability to press forward and create opportunities allowed him to dispatch Michael McDonald in highlight reel fashion. Lineker opened McDonald up with body blows before catching McDonald moving straight backward to finish the fight. However, Cruz and Dillashaw do not move in that same fashion, which presents a challenge for Lineker.

In the Dodson fight, Dodson’s movement caused Lineker to miss very often, but he continued to apply pressure and throw combinations whenever in range. That pressure and volume contributed to Lineker winning key exchanges during the middle rounds and creating the perception that Dodson was “running” rather than engaging.

While Cruz and Dillashaw present similar challenges, they don’t do so in exactly the same way. For example, Dillashaw uses his footwork to create angles and openings before firing off combinations. Instead of turning completely away to reset on the other side of the cage, he is more willing to stay in the pocket and exchange. Cruz, on the other hand, uses his footwork to keep his opponents off balance and unable to set their feet to strike. Lineker is more of a plodding fighter that stands flat-footed to deliver the most power, a style that Cruz’s style seems tailor-made for.

Lineker’s bout with Dodson lived up to the anticipation leading into UFC Fight Night 96. And now that Lineker is truly in the conversation to receive a title shot, analysts will begin to break down how he would fare against Dillashaw and Cruz in the near future. These are two compelling fights that fans and MMA experts would love to watch.


UFC Fight Night 96: Dodson vs. Lineker took place on October 1, 2016 at Moda Center in Portland, Oregon.

Click the stars to rate how good you think UFC Fight Night 96 was.

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