John Lineker gets a shot at becoming a champion on Friday, Mar. 11, when he challenges Bibiano Fernandes for the ONE Championship bantamweight title at ONE Championship: Lights Out. This would be an exciting prospect for any martial artist, but it is especially so for the top-ranked Brazilian contender, who has faced a difficult journey to get to this moment.
Lineker blitzed his way to the top of the bantamweight division in ONE with his trademark berserker style and hammering body blows. But when the time came for his first title match in the organization, he was forced to withdraw due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
“I did all the tests in Brazil,” said Lineker. “I did it when I left my city, then in São Paulo, hours before boarding to Singapore, and all the tests were negative. When I arrived in Singapore, I took another test and this one was positive, I learned that I tested positive the day after I arrived in Singapore. I got a message saying I had tested positive.
“I still had hope to fight, but, unfortunately, the doctors in Singapore wouldn’t let me. I was sad, but these are things that are out of our control. I had to understand and hold on, keep my head up and focused.”
It was a crushing blow to the 31-year-old, but when the match was moved to ONE Championship: Lights Out, Lineker regained focus on the task at hand.
“I was a little sad, but I wasn’t shaken,” said the Parana native. “I dedicated myself a lot to the fight and receiving the news that I wasn’t going to fight anymore, it messed with me a little at the beginning. But then I understood and stayed strong, with positive thinking. I knew that this would pass and that I would soon be back.”
The rivalry between the two Brazilians was heated before their original date, but it was brought back to a simmer when it was postponed. With the bout rescheduled, the temperature was turned back up, and Lineker became more driven than ever to get back to work.
Now, Lineker says that his physical and mental status is more developed than before. He believes the additional time has allowed him to refine his skills further, and he’ll need every bit of it to topple longtime bantamweight kingpin Fernandes.
“I continued training and managed to keep myself at a high level,” claimed Lineker. “My physical condition is 100-percent, and I managed to improve my technique a little more and also better analyze my fight strategy. In the end, this postponement turned out to be positive.
“I’ve been training my ground game a lot, my jiu-jitsu, my wrestling, and today I feel very confident. If I get taken down, I feel confident to work my ground game. I still haven’t been able to show my evolution in jiu-jitsu in my last fights, because they’ve ended up standing up, by knockout. But if I go to the ground, I’ll have the opportunity to show how much I’ve evolved. An MMA fighter needs to have the most complete game possible, and I know that I am a complete athlete, that I am prepared to fight both standing and on the ground.”
While Fernandes may look to take the action to the canvas, he’s made it clear that he isn’t concerned with Lineker’s striking acumen. Although he credits his power, he doesn’t fear it.
Lineker brushes off that sentiment, as he has full confidence in the hands that have earned him 16 career knockout victories.
“Other opponents have already said that, but when it comes to the fight, everything changes,” claimed Lineker. As Mike Tyson says, ‘everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.’ I trust in my striking, I know how dangerous I am in striking. And he knows it too.”
When it comes to predictions, it should come as no surprise that Lineker is looking for a knockout.
The Brazilian bruiser is confident in all of his skills, but his thudding body shots and heat-seeking hooks are still his trademark talents.
“As in all my fights, I always look for the knockout,” claimed Lineker. “I don’t like to leave it to the judges’ decision, because you never know what might happen. My intention in this fight is to seek the knockout. I intend to knock him out fast, I don’t want to extend this fight too long. We have a plan, but like I said, it can change during the fight. But my focus, my goal is this: to seek the knockout all the time and not leave it in the judges’ hands.”
Although the personal beef has added some spice to the matchup, Lineker maintains that his focus has always been on becoming the titleholder.
“I fight whoever ONE puts me to fight,” claimed Lineker. “I asked for Bibiano, not because it’s Bibiano, but because I want the belt.”
ONE Championship: Lights Out airs live and free on Friday, Mar. 11, at 6 a.m. ET on ONE’s YouTube channel and the ONE Super App.
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