In case you weren’t already aware, John Lineker took the opportunity in last week’s UFC Fight Night main event in Sioux Falls, S.D., to show the world exactly why he’s been called one of the most devastating strikers in the UFC. Squaring off against powerful bantamweight Michael McDonald, Lineker came out and wrecked “Mayday” in less than three minutes, smashing the former title challenger with hard punches and earning what was easily the biggest win of his career. Now, just three fights into his run at 135 pounds, Lineker is proving what a lot of fight fans have believed for years: he’s a bantamweight contender.
Linker has been one of the scariest match-ups on the UFC roster for a while now, but it’s been hard to take him seriously as a legitimate title threat until his current run at bantamweight. That’s because of his weight-cutting problems while competing at 125 pounds. From the time he made his UFC debut in 2012 up until September 2015, Lineker was the most frustrating fighter on the roster in a lot of ways. With a ridiculous amount of talent and a killer instinct that most fighters would, well, kill for, Lineker had been turning heads, for both the right and wrong reasons, pretty much from the moment he popped up in the Octagon. As good as he was inside the cage, the fact that the Brazilian missed weight for half of his eight flyweight fights kept him firmly on the backburner when it came to earning a shot at Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson’s flyweight strap.
“Hands of Stone” ended up putting together a 6-2 record while competing (or at least attempting to compete) at flyweight, but after missing weight for what was essentially supposed to be a title eliminator against Ian McCall at UFC 183, the UFC was left with no choice but to force Lineker to move up to the bantamweight division. Good call, UFC. Since the move, Lineker has been nothing short of fantastic, putting on one of the best one-round fights in recent memory with Francisco Rivera in his bantamweight debut, winning a lopsided decision against fellow prospect Rob Font and now destroying McDonald in the first, all in the span of less than a year. If anything, the former flyweight has looked even more impressive since moving up in weight. Now that the scale is no longer his enemy, he’s finally getting the props he’s deserved for a while now as a top-tier fighter.
Of course, now that Lineker’s showing what he can do without his continuous weight-cutting debacles hanging over his head, more and more fight fans have started to wonder if Lineker would have been the guy to knock off “Mighty Mouse” if he had been able to get his shit together.
While Johnson has fought some really good and powerful strikers before, including the likes of John Dodson and Joseph Benavidez, no one has come after “Mighty Mouse” with the go-for-broke tenacity that Lineker has displayed in most of his fights. In a lot of ways, the Brazilian’s style would have presented Johnson with an extremely unique challenge compared to the rest of the flyweight division. Sure, conventional wisdom might lead fans to believe Johnson would take Lineker down and grind him out the same way Ali Bagautinov did in Lineker’s only loss since his UFC debut, but Lineker’s one-of-a-kind power would make things interesting at the very least.
While Lineker is definitely making a name for himself at 135 pounds, there have actually been some rumblings among fight fans that now is the perfect time for the UFC to give the Brazilian one last shot at flyweight in order to set up a fight with Johnson. This makes almost no sense, given that the UFC can’t afford to give a title shot to a guy who has only made weight in that division 50 percent of the time. However, with how badly the flyweight division is struggling right now compared to the suddenly thriving 135-pound weight class, it’s not all that surprising that fans are thinking outside the box in order to get “Mighty Mouse” a decent fight.
Before he went down with an injury a few weeks ago, Johnson was set to defend his title against Wilson Reis in the co-main event of UFC 201 in a fight that almost no fight fan saw coming. No disrespect to Reis, who’s proven to be a quality flyweight, but the fact that Johnson has cleaned the division out to the point where the UFC’s No. 7-ranked flyweight is worthy of a title shot while on a one-fight winning streak is jarring. It shows just how dominant the champ has been.
Compare this situation to the wealth of talent the UFC has at bantamweight, with guys like Cody Garbrandt, Bryan Caraway and the aforementioned Dodson leading the way. Can you see why some fight fans would rather see Linker attempt to make one last run at flyweight instead of trying to navigate a suddenly stacked bantamweight title picture? There’s no denying that Lineker would be a more fun match-up for Johnson than any of the remaining ranked flyweights that “Mighty Mouse” hasn’t beaten yet, and if it wasn’t for the pesky weight issue, it’s a fight that likely would have happened a long time ago.
Part of fighting for the world’s premier organization is that there’s a certain amount of professionalism expected out of the athletes. Lineker proved time and time again that he wasn’t able to live up to those standards while competing at 125 pounds. Yes, he might be able to blitz “Mighty Mouse” and land the shot to end one of the greatest reigns in the history of the sport. Yes, he’s probably the most interesting opponent the UFC could give Johnson right now without making the champ move up in weight. However, the risk of Lineker winning such a fight and then having to end up vacating the belt at a later date far outweighs (no pun intended) the reward of giving Johnson an opponent who still would be a major underdog if they were booked to compete.
The weight cut is the reason why the Johnson-Lineker fight was never booked in the past. It’s the same reason the UFC can’t — and won’t — consider booking it in the future.