It’s a massive promotional failure that John Lineker isn’t a more popular fighter among the casual audience. While his technical approach leaves a lot to be desired, Lineker is something like Justin Gaethje in that he’s successful at the elite level and also absurdly entertaining. Originally slated to fight bantamweight great Dominick Cruz, the unfortunate (if somewhat predictable) injury issues of the former champion have left the always-game “Hands of Stone” fighting down in the rankings for the third time in a row. This time, he faces Cory Sandhagen, a prospect off a thrilling win over the well-respected Iuri Alcantara. It’s a big rankings jump for Sandhagen, but a win (especially a finish) would be a fast-track to the elite of 135-pounds.
Sandhagen deserves all the credit in the world for surviving the initial assault of Alcantara, who flung him head-first into the mat with a whizzer before working on an armbar that would have drawn a tap from 99% of the population. Sandhagen came back to lamp Alcantara to the finish with an arm that seemed totally destroyed, but being in such a compromising position so early into a fight doesn’t bode well. What’s even more concerning is how he ended up in the clinch; Alcantara ran him to the fence 15 seconds into the bout with a fairly wild blitz.
Against John Lineker, the last thing that someone can be is “easy to drive to the fence”. Lineker is the most rudimentary iteration of a pressure fighter, which is to say that he runs forward throwing combinations until you hit the fence, and then hits you while you’re on the fence with that same combination. He doesn’t have much cage-cutting acumen (TJ Dillashaw and John Dodson ran circles around him) and his boxing acumen is largely limited to “hook to the body, then hook to the head,” but his durability and his raw, crushing power make it viable. Brian Kelleher was disciplined in jabbing the shorter Lineker to keep him at bay and moving laterally to keep from getting walked down, but as soon as Lineker got him against the fence, Kelleher couldn’t do much but cover up as he got rib-roasted and beaten up, and when the left hook got through the guard, Kelleher dropped hard. Lineker isn’t going to pull off a slick belly-down armbar off the whizzer if he gets Sandhagen to the fence, but he’s probably more punishing.
Even when he isn’t run to the fence, Sandhagen doesn’t fight the kind of fight that makes use of his massive height advantage over the 5-foot-3 Brazilian. Against Austin Arnett, he was an aggressive pressure fighter who had some decent shifting footwork and decent proactive head movement, but also marched forward relentlessly enough that it doesn’t seem too hard to draw him into a brawl.
An X-factor is Sandhagen’s solid work to the body, with kicks and punches, but overall, it’s unlikely that Sandhagen can play his game against the even more aggressive Lineker.
Prediction: Lineker via second-round knockout. This writer caps Lineker at -300.
More UFC predictions: