John Lineker feels as excited as a MMA newcomer as he makes the walk to a ONE Championship cage for the first time on Friday, but the experience of having 40 professional bouts — 16 of those in the UFC — could propel him into title contention right away.
Lineker, who makes his promotional debut against Muin Garufov at ONE: Dawn of Valor in Jakarta, Indonesia, doesn’t expect to be matched up against bantamweight champion Bibiano Fernandes with a win on Friday, but agrees that the current landscape in the division favors him.
“I don’t think my second fight will be for the title after I defeat Gafurov, but I think it’s gonna happen really soon,” Lineker told MMA Fighting. “I believe it’s gonna be a short run.”
To make things better for “Hands of Stone,” Fernandes has pretty much cleaned the bantamweight division with multiple title defenses over the last few years, including four title bouts with the same opponent, Kevin Belingon.
“That can definitely help me,” Lineker said. “I’m confident that I’ll be fighting for the belt with a couple of wins at ONE.”
The UFC has given Lineker a big name in the MMA community, and the exciting brawler is thankful for everything he’s gained after competing inside the Octagon for seven years.
“They have changed my life from water into wine,” Lineker said. “I had many great opportunities being in the UFC, in both professional and personal life, so I have to thank God and the UFC for everything they’ve done for me. I had no bad feeling towards them, only gratitude.”
No longer allowed to dehydrate to make weight under ONE rules, Lineker, who started his UFC career as a flyweight but moved up to bantamweight after multiple weight misses, feels “stronger and healthier” fighting at 145 pounds now.
Lineker was let go from the UFC earlier this year after a decision loss to Cody Sandhagen, only the second defeat in eight bouts as a bantamweight, and a few fight cancellations. Booked to meet dangerous Gafurov (16-2) at ONE, “Hands of Stone” expects the 24-year-old Tajikistan native to avoid a stand-up battle.
“I always hope that my opponents will trade with me, but the majority of them don’t come with those intentions,” Lineker said with a laugh. “I’ve done well against everyone else that tried except for Cody Sandhagen, who’s a long and lean guy. I expect Gafurov to try to take me down and use his grappling, so I’ll use all my tools.”
“I’m fighting a tough opponent in my debut, but that’s what I like. I love challenges,” he continued. “If you want to be the best you have to beat the best. He’s a tough and versatile athlete who is comfortable on the feet and on the ground, but I’m ready. I’m ready for him. My wrestling has gotten way better since I started training at American Top Team and I’m confident in the grappling area. I haven’t changed a bit on the feet, I’ll always go for the knockout.”