SAO PAULO, Brazil — John Lineker takes on Marlon Vera at UFC Sao Paulo, but that was not the UFC’s original plan for the event on Saturday. In fact, according to “Hands of Stone,” that’s far from the Plan A.
"A lot of opponents ran from fighting me in Brazil,” Lineker told MMA Fighting. "I thank Marlon and his team for accepting to fight me in Brazil, they know that's a big pressure. I have to thank them. I needed a fight. It’s been a while since my last fight, so I have to thank them. It’s going to be a great fight.”
Lineker won’t mention names, but guarantee that “a lot of fighters” declined a chance to meet him in Brazilian soil. "Six or seven fighters turned it down,” he said.
The Brazilian bantamweight is coming back to action 10 months after his last bout, a decision defeat to former champion T.J. Dillashaw. Not a believer in ring rust, Lineker says that the longest layoff of his UFC career was welcomed.
"This time off was really important for my recovery,” he said. "You miss a few things when you’re training non-stop, the weight cut destroys your body, so these past 10 months I had a chance to recover my body. When I started this camp, my body responded well to the diet and training, so I’m even better than before.”
The main reason why he hasn’t fought earlier was an early-2017 surgery to fix a fractured jaw, an injury he suffered in the first round against DIllashaw last December.
"The post-surgery recovery was wonderful,” Lineker said. "I underwent surgery in January and slowly got back to training in February, doing light exercises. I have no scars, no damage, nothing. My recovery was 100 percent, and I’m sure my jaw won’t be an issue.
"It didn’t affect me in training and it won’t affect me in the fight. I wasn’t scared to get hit in the face or anything like that. It was pretty normal, like if I didn’t have surgery in the first place. It’s 100 percent. I was worried if (my chin) would’ve got a weaker [laughs], but it hasn’t changed anything."
Excited to be back in action, Lineker hopes Vera stands and trades with him in Sao Paulo — he doesn’t actually expect the Ecuadorean talent to try to test his chin being that Lineker is one of the heaviest hitters in the division, though.
"I believe he will stand with me, maybe to show some of his striking skills, but then he will try to take me down,” he said. "I always hope my opponents stand with me so we can put on a great show and get the bonus of the night.
"I needed this fight, I like to be active. There’s no better feeling than knocking people out. It’s a wonderful feeling, knowing that your hands are really heavy. I hope I can get a knockout again in this fight."