John Lineker takes on Bibiano Fernandes for the ONE Championship bantamweight title at ONE Championship: Lights Out this Friday, Mar. 11. Lineker has had an excellent career but has often not been able to persevere when the stakes are the highest. Will he be able to handle the pressure of a title bout?
Lineker had a largely successful run in the UFC, but seemed to fall short whenever he was on the verge of title contention. The first time this occurred was when he was beaten in a flyweight title eliminator by Ali Bagautinov in 2012. After he missed weight a couple of times at flyweight, he moved to the bantamweight division for the first time in his UFC tenure. He proceeded to go on a three-fight win streak before coming up against T.J Dillashaw in what appeared to be a number-one contender bout.
Lineker suffered a unanimous decision loss and was forced to rebuild himself. He did exactly that, winning contests against Marlon Vera and Brian Kelleher to re-establish himself at the top of the weight class. He then ran into Cory Sandhagen. The two would go on to have a back-and-forth contest which Sandhagen won by split decision. Lineker had once again fallen at what was seemingly the final hurdle. This loss was perhaps the most frustrating of all, as it seemed that the Brazilian was unfortunate to not get the decision in his favor. This was reflected by the fact that 10 of the 17 media members at the event scored the fight for him.
There is no shame in losing to the likes of Dillashaw and Sandhagen, who are among the best in the world today, but Lineker’s failures at the very highest level suggest that there was something missing in his game. A lack of discipline and focus can partly explain why he has not reached the pinnacle of the sport. This can be inferred from the fact that the 31-year-old has missed weight five times in his career. Most fans expected his weight-cutting issues to be behind him after he moved up to bantamweight in the UFC, but things did not play out in this way. He missed the 136-pound limit before his contest against John Dodson. He has not had any issues making weight with ONE, where weight-cutting is forbidden and the weight-limits are 10lbs heavier in most divisions than what they are in most other promotions. With bantamweight being at 145 pounds, Lineker should not have problems in this area.
Lineker has been impressive since he signed with ONE Championship, winning all three of his bouts, with the last being a vicious first-round knockout of Troy Worthen. This Friday’s contest against Fernandes will be the third time that the two Brazilians have been scheduled to meet. They were originally set to face each other at ONE Championship: X in Dec. 2021. Due to issues revolving around the pandemic, the event was postponed and the fight was rescheduled for ONE Championship: Bad Blood on Feb. 11. However, Lineker tested positive for COVID-19 just days prior to that event and the fight was once again cancelled.
These delays have given both Lineker and Fernandes ample time to prepare for each other. On paper, it appears to be a classic striker vs. grappler match-up, pitting the slick jiu-jitsu of Fernandes against the sheer punching power of Lineker. However, both fighters are well-rounded. Lineker rarely displays his grappling, but is accomplished in this department. In spite of this, he will want to avoid getting into grappling exchanges with Fernandes. The 41-year-old is a three-time World Jiu-Jitsu champion and has nine victories by submission. While Lineker has shown solid takedown defense in his career, Fernandes will have noted that the 31-year-old was taken down and controlled for a decent amount of time in his defeats against Bagautinov and Dillashaw. If Lineker is taken down, he will need to be extremely careful in the manner that he attempts to get back up.
In Fernandes’ last bout, Kevin Belingon got up after being on bottom position, but exposed his back, and Fernandes quickly jumped on and cinched in a rear-naked choke which forced the tap. The speed at which Fernandes was able to capitalize on Belingon’s mistake highlights the threat that the champion possesses on the ground.
Lineker has established himself as one of the most dangerous bantamweights in the world with his marauding, power-punching style. The 31-year-old has such confidence in his stand-up game, due to his immense power, which is perhaps unmatched by any bantamweight in the world right now. However, he may need to avoid over-committing and inadvertently presenting Fernandes with easier takedown opportunities. Lineker likes to throw big, powerful hooks and back his opponents up against the cage. While he has successfully broken down many fighters this way, his reliance on his power can make him one dimensional at times.
On paper, Lineker faces a daunting task in trying to defeat Bibiano Fernandes for the ONE bantamweight championship this Friday. Fernandes has only lost once in the last decade, and even that was a closely contested split decision that could have easily gone the other way. Lineker will have to overcome his big fight demons and likely deliver the best performance of his career. A defeat won’t necessarily spell the end of his title hopes, but psychologically, it could be difficult to come back from, considering his history of falling short on the biggest stages. As a result, Lineker’s most important battle at ONE Championship: Lights Out may very well be mental rather than physical.
The lead card kicks off on YouTube, Facebook and the ONE Super app starting at 6 a.m. ET. The main card follows on YouTube and the ONE Super app at 7:30 a.m. ET.
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