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Fortunes changed for five at UFC Fight Night 96

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
When the John Lineker vs. John Dodson fight was first announced for Saturday night's Fight Night in Portland, Ore., it got a lot of hardcore fans buzzing right away.

The two former flyweight contenders, who moved up a division for different reasons, seemed evenly matched, and were both coming off quick knockouts, showing that they were able to bring their power up the division. It was the quickness of Dodson vs. the power of Lineker.

The fight delivered, maybe not quite at the level people where it will be talked about for fight of the year, but it was certainly all it was cracked up to be. It was a close, explosive fight, which on the scorecards of the three judges, was a split decision, coming down to how round two was judged.

Two judges gave the round to Lineker, who seemed to hit harder, and had a 16-15 edge in strikes landed during the round. To show how close the fight was, in the third round, Dodson had a 15-14 edge in strikes, but all three judges gave the round to Lineker.

Dodson ended up with a 101-93 edge in significant strikes, and was far more efficient, connecting on 52 percent to 28 percent for Lineker. Lineker hit harder, and was the aggressor, with Dodson several times even scurrying away, which never helps when it comes to judges.

In the end, it was a call that could have gone either way, with the reporter scores on being the same as the judges, going 65 percent in favor of Lineker.   .

Perhaps the biggest story of the night was that in the top two fights, each winner missed weight. Lineker missed by a half-pound. Alex Oliveira, who stopped Will Brooks in what was supposed to be a lightweight fight, missed by 5.5 pounds.

The weight issues are always an issue, perhaps moreso as UFC has attempted to monitor fighters to keep their weights under control and not have big last minute cuts..

Oliveira had been fighting at welterweight in UFC, with this being his first fight at lightweight since a debut fight in that weight class 18 months ago against Gilbert Burns. After missing his mark that badly, he could be forced to move back up.

With Lineker, it was his fifth weight miss, the prior four times coming at flyweight. The feeling was if he was to move up, the weight issues would be behind him. The failure to make weight was costly, as not only did he loss 20 percent of his purse, but there is a very good chance Lineker and Dodson could have gotten a best fight bonus. The company's guidelines are not to reward fighters who miss weight with bonuses. In this case, Lineker  not only cost Dodson a loss that hurts his momentum, but also may have cost him $50,000 extra with it.

Lineker issued a challenge to Dominick Cruz for the bantamweight title after the fight. That didn't go over well, even after the excitement of the fight. A title challenge right now is likely to fall on deaf ears. Even with a big win, he'd have been a longshot at best to get the next shot. But it's incumbent on him not to miss weight again, because, big punching power or not, he is too small physically to compete at the top level at featherweight.

The weight difference, only 1.5 pounds at weigh-ins, probably played only a minor factor in the fight. But in a fight that close, you can point to almost anything.

In the Oliveira win over Brooks, the weight difference likely played a major part in the fight. But probably more significant was Brooks' suffering a rib injury in the first round, which seemed to get more painful as the fight went on. The fight was stopped by referee Herb Dean in the third round as Brooks was clearly in too much pain to continue. The former Bellator champion, who never lost his title in the cage, was thought to be a potential big player in the UFC's lightweight division. He didn't impress in his UFC debut win over Ross Pearson, and this loss will hurt him even more.

Oliveira made himself no fans with post-match gestures at Brooks, including a crotch chop. He can argue that Brooks bad mouthed him before the fight, but Brooks had every right to when he missed weight that badly. If anything, Oliveira should have thanked Brooks for taking that fight. It's a decision that Brooks may be regretting now.

There's a question of how much it should be held against Brooks.. Brooks didn't lose within his weight class and it raised a question as to whether it's smart for a possible contender to take a fight against someone who missed weight so badly. It's even rougher at lightweight, with all the depth the division has, and how one loss can greatly change one's career path.

Let's look at how Fortunes Changed for Five stars of Saturday's show.

JOHN LINEKER - At 29-7, with six wins in a row, plus exciting performances in almost all those wins, Lineker's weight eliminates him from thoughts of a title shot, which seems likely to go to either Cody Garbrandt or T.J. Dillashaw.

A good next fight for Lineker would be Jimmie Rivera (20-1), who just beat Urijah Faber three weeks ago. The one thing about MMA is that you usually erase negatives with a good performance, and with Lineker, a win over Rivera, as long as he makes weight, will make him a top contender. Rivera needs that same type of a win to make his name strong enough to be in the title mix.

JOHN DODSON - The best fight for Dodson (19-8) right now, if it's viable, would be against Faber (33-10). If Faber is going to continue fighting, he'll want to be on the debut show at the new Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Dec. 17. Dodson is a well enough known name for it to be the type of opponent that would interest Faber. It would likely be one of the most pushed fights if it's on that show. Even at this stage of the game, a win over Faber will be good for Dodson's career and erase whatever losing the decisiion to Lineker cost him.

If Faber isn't interested in fighting that soon, or at all, Bryan Caraway (21-7) would be the next best opponent. Since it's not always the easiest to get Caraway to fight, a third possibility is Aljamain Sterling (12-1).

Had he won and Garbrandt got the title shot, a fight with Dillashaw would have made sense, and it's still possible, but one would think less likely.

What helps Dodson is he's been in the spotlight. He's a former winner of The Ultimate Fighter and has had two title shots at flyweight, so he's a good name for just about anyone in the division to face, even coming off the loss.

ALEX OLIVEIRA - The question here is what division does Oliveira (15-3-1, 1 no-contest) fight at next. If he's allowed to stay at lightweight, Francisco Trinaldo (21-4), sporting a seven-fight win streak, is a good opponent.
At welterweight, Tim Means (26-7-1) or Rick Story (19-9) would be good opponents. It's not that Oliveira was forced down a weight class because of repeated losses at welterweight, as he was 4-1 in that division. His lone loss was to Donald Cerrone, one of the top contenders.

WILL BROOKS - Brooks (19-2) has yet to get untracked in UFC. He shouldn't be punished much in booking even with the loss. He was competitive in the fight with Oliveira before, and even after the rib went out. A good next opponent for him would be Gilbert Melendez (22-6) or Evan Dunham (18-6). Melendez is still a big name even if he's past his championship level peak.

ANDRE FILI - Fili (16-4) was successful where Brooks and Dodson weren't on Saturday. Fili beat the third man on the show who missed weight on Saturday in Hacran Dias (23-5-1). Fili noted that he was the one who took the fight late and made weight, and it was an exciting and close fight. Fili got the nod in the first and second round, with the second the likely deciding round.

Fili immediately said he wanted to be on the Sacramento show, as he's a Team Alpha Male guy. A good opponent for him would be Chas Skelly (16-2), coming off his 19-second win over Maximo Blanco two weeks ago.

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