With a ranked bantamweight falling out of a fight in South Carolina, John Lineker has been afforded an opportunity to get back on the horse after his late April loss. “Hands of Stone” has been fighting down since his loss to TJ Dillashaw in 2016, and while he soundly beat Marlon Vera and sparked Brian Kelleher, he was finally toppled (albeit in an extremely questionable decision) by the streaking Cory Sandhagen in Miami. With a quick turnaround to fill in for the injured Cody Stamann, #10 Lineker faces an opponent just as dangerous as Sandhagen, but also one he’s defeated before.
In 2016, Rob Font went to Brazil off two wins in the UFC to face then-#12 bantamweight John Lineker. While the fight wasn’t a washout, Font was soundly defeated in his bid to enter the rankings; however, Font then put together a campaign to claim that #12 spot for himself three years later. With finishes over Thomas Almeida and Douglas Silva de Andrade, as well as a dominant decision over Sergio Pettis, Font has proven himself a top-15 talent; in Greenville, he has a chance to prove himself a top-10 one.
Hands of Stone
Despite being a genuine action fighter with name-value as a former top contender, John Lineker has found a great amount of trouble in getting a fight booked (enough, in fact, that he asked for his own release if the UFC couldn’t find a fight for him), so the short-notice opening in South Carolina may be a godsend for the Brazilian. With a knockout over Font, Lineker would not only move up further in the rankings, but also prove that (despite his loss last time out) he isn’t going anywhere as a test for upcoming prospects.
Lineker’s approach is fairly simple in terms of strike selection, but he brings the attributes (both athletically and technically) to make it viable at a high level. Lineker’s best fights are ones in which he can engage in the pocket, where he’s an absolutely vicious swarmer who’s extremely difficult to back off. Lineker can jab into range and counter well enough to keep his opponent from trying to push him back, which helps him pressure his opponent, and his extremely frequent body work (often in dedicated flurries to the body before going up to the head) not only ensures that his pace gets to his opponent quickly, but also helps him cut the cage if his opponent looks to circle away. Essentially, planting and swinging with Lineker is almost certainly going to lead to disaster (he’s too powerful to take a clean hit from, and too durable to gain a breather by hurting him), and he does a good job creating situations where the only option is to swing with him.
Lineker’s approach works most of the time, but it isn’t flawless, and its simplicity can often work against him. Lineker is a fine grappler with a very good guillotine if someone shoots on him, but he isn’t particularly hard to take down when he commits to swinging. Ali Bagautinov was able to wait on Lineker’s punches to shoot underneath them, where TJ Dillashaw got Lineker biting on his entries and taking him down as he tried to counter (consistently faking level changes and coming up with strikes, and committing to the takedown as Lineker looked to punish that). Even so, the simple gameplan of Lineker doesn’t really have a simple winning response.
Rob Font has a lot of things that would theoretically leave him as a top fighter, even in a fairly stacked division like bantamweight, and the beginning of his career was par for the course as a prospect; even after the loss to Lineker (who’s a decent spoiler for prospects), Font went on to get two straight finishes and put on an excellent performance against a tough foe in Douglas Silva de Andrade. Losses to current top-5 fighters in Raphael Assuncao and Pedro Munhoz have slowed his trajectory, but a win over Lineker would push Font into the top 10 for another crack at the elite.
As a tall and rangy fighter, Font is strongest as a boxer from the outside; he’s not inept in the pocket, but Font makes full use of his frame when he’s allowed to float around in the open, and it allows him to use one of the sharpest jabs at bantamweight. Font’s jab is mechanically sound and very fast, but the real utility of Font’s jab lies in setting other attacks up; Font can use the jab to track his opponent’s head for the right hand (as he did to crack Thomas Almeida in the middle of a deep slip), and he can also feint it to take advantage of his opponent’s reaction (for example, showing Matt Schnell the jab to step in with a knee as he covered up). Font’s right hand shows a good deal of variance, which further helps him set up his bigger blows; Font cycled between the straight/uppercut/wide right to the body against Munhoz, he dropped Silva de Andrade with an overhand after lacing him with mostly straight blows throughout the fight, and he followed the jab with a frame off his right hand to herd Almeida into a head kick. Font showed some decent takedown skills and a punishing double-collar tie against Silva de Andrade, but his entire skillset centers (and depends) on his strong boxing game.
Despite having a fairly deep boxing game and serviceable skills in every phase, Font has struggled against his better opponents for a variety of reasons. Against Lineker and Assuncao, it mostly came down to being punished on his jab; Lineker viciously attacked the lead leg and countered with flurries to the body to keep Font from being able to jab freely, where Assuncao drew him out and countered the jab with the counter-right. Past odd missteps like the Munhoz fight (where he was clearly winning before getting suddenly crowded), whether Font wins or loses comes down to whether he can establish the jab early.
Conclusions and Capping
It’s fairly unlikely that Font has improved enough to keep Lineker from being a bad fight for him. While Font’s boxing is more layered, he doesn’t have too many tools to keep someone like Lineker from barreling after him, especially if his jab is punished as thoroughly as Lineker managed in 2016. Kicking defense is still a less developed area for Font than the rest of his striking game; while he was able to catch a few of Munhoz’s kicks, Font’s heavy lead leg makes it hard to take leg kicks without his stance being compromised (both Lineker and Assuncao knocked him off his feet by kicking his leg on the counter). Unless Font can badly hurt Lineker early in the fight so that he can establish the jab without the Brazilian pushing him back and punishing him at every turn, it’s likely to run away from him.
Prediction: Lineker via decision. This writer caps Lineker at -200.