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John Lineker rules out return to flyweight, but still wants to beat up Demetrious Johnson

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

John Lineker has looked impressive as a bantamweight leading up to his first five-round UFC fight Wednesday night against Michael McDonald at UFC Fight Night 91.

The 135-pound clash was originally set for three rounds, but was promoted to the main event after Michael Chiesa pulled out of a lightweight bout with Tony Ferguson due to an injury. Lineker, who defeated Francisco Rivera and Rob Font in his first bantamweight fights under the UFC banner, says the change was no big deal.

"I’m very prepared and focused for this fight, especially now that we’re fighting in the main event," Lineker told MMA Fighting. "I always train for five rounds because my goal is to become the UFC champion, so this change didn’t affect me at all. I don’t think it affects him either because he already fought five-round fights before, so it’s pretty much the same. Whoever is more focused and prepared will win -- and that’s me."

Lineker went 2-0 in less than a year as a 135-pounder, and feels great competing among bigger competition. When he steps into the cage in Sioux Falls, the Brazilian will have a long height and reach disadvantage.

"I adapted well in the bantamweight division," he said. "The other guys are taller and stronger than me, of course, but I’ve fought at 135 before signing with the UFC, so it was easy to adapt. I had great results so far, and I want to show that I’m capable of becoming the bantamweight champion.

"I believe (McDonald) will try to stand and trade with me until he feels my hand. This is a good match-up for me standing or on the ground. I’m happy with this fight, and I’m ready to get the victory. I believe that a win gets me closet to a title fight, especially since he’s ranked at No. 5 in the division."

The Brazilian striker missed the opportunity of fighting for the UFC flyweight championship after failing to make weight in multiple occasions, and now sets his target on bantamweight kingpin Dominick Cruz.

"I hope (Cruz) remains champion because I’d like to fight him, but there are other fighters that are capable of winning the title before," he said. "But I want him to keep the belt. He never lost his belt. He got injured, but continued to be the champion even when (Renan) Barao won the title, so I’d make history with a win over him. Winning the title against someone else would also be huge, but it wouldn’t feel the same as taking it away from Dominick Cruz."

And even though his goal is to beat Cruz for the title, Lineker hasn’t forgotten his rivalry with UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson. In fact, Lineker hopes that "Mighty Mouse" eventually moves up to 135 pounds so they can finally meet inside the Octagon.

"It’s water under the bridge. I don’t think about going back down anymore. I only think about my future at bantamweight," Lineker said. "But if (Johnson) moves up, it would be great for the division, and I would be able to fight him. He sleeps and wakes up thinking that I could beat him, for sure. We are fighters and we have pride, so I think he would definitely move up and fight me."