Two of the less featherfisted bantam(ish)weights try to knock each other out this October 1, 2016 at the Moda Center in Portland, Oregon.
One sentence summary
Phil: TINY MAN PUNCH TIME GOOOOOOO
David: Two sentient fists play a thunderdome game of catch me if you can at catchweight.
Record: John Dodson 18-7 John Lineker 28-7
Odds: John Dodson -130 John Lineker +110
History / Introduction to the Fighters
David: When he's not facing Demetrious Johnson, Dodson is a something-from-nothing puncher whose punches opponents want nothing to do with (yes I know, I've been watching too many David Mamet scripted movies lately). Despite his reputation, it's hard to tell where Dodson's future is headed. After all, the champion of his division matches up very well against him. Despite that, he's perfect as "will he or won't he defenestrate with his opponent's head?" gatekeeper.
Phil: Dodson is an interesting case-study in the differences between being "unreliable" and being actually unreliable. For much of his early career, he was the latter. Watch him sleepwalking through a decision loss to Mike Easton is a far cry from his late career, where he occasionally has underwhelming performances but has honestly been pretty consistent in beating the fighters that he's expected to beat, and only losing to the man who's arguably the most skilled of all time. Dodson is still a far cry from being an ultra-reliable, process-driven fighter, but I think his reputation as something of a flake has been undeserved.
David: Lineker has proven that the move up in weight has not changed his identity as a brilliant knucklesmith of tempestuous expressionism. The McDonald and Rivera fights are bouts I watch regularly to remind myself I never need to watch a snuff film just for curiosity sake. At 26 years of age, Lineker is at just the right age to make a potential title run for a brief reign. Fighters like him are like that. Their longevity absorbing punches is inversely proportional to their longevity inside the cage. Kind of a sobering thought for a wonderful prizefight, but ya know...just saying.
Phil: Lineker is eternally entertaining, in the way that only a small ball of muscle punching things until they fall over can be. Watching him batter people around the cage brings to mind a tiny, fearsome Terminator, but I think the better Lineker descriptor is perhaps the Alien quote. "Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility. I admire its purity. A survivor... unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality." But, y'know. Less fangs and acid blood and suchlike, and more punching. And also, punching.
What's at stake?
Phil: Action fighter title shot? Whoever wins it is likely to be violent. TJ Dillashaw would doubtless be angry, but the winner of this would be a more saleable and frankly an easier fight for Cruz than he is.
David: Dillashaw is great and I'll let him finish, but Dodson or Lineker are examples of political matchmaking at its finest: hierarchy can wait.
Where do they want it?
Phil: Dodson works best as a counter-fighter, being given time and opportunity to land his left hand down the middle or in short, choppy head-body combinations. In doing this he often tends to give up a lot of space, and can get backed into the moat of the cage with regularity. I think the root cause of this is essentially because Dodson is essentially without much head movement. He rarely slips and fires, so instead is compelled to move in and out and beat his opponents on pure foot and handspeed. That he's able to do this to almost everyone he fights is evidence of what a special athlete he actually is. I mean, he's still probably the fastest man in the UFC.
However, it also means that the opponent doesn't need to be as fast as him in order to contest him- he simply needs to be as fast moving forwards as Dodson is moving backwards. Thus, Demetrious Johnson was able to corner him by moving him backwards with long, stepping punches towards Dodson's ever-stationary head, then clinching up on the cage. This kind of approach has to be done without overcommitting. Otherwise Dodson just sits down on the big straight left as the opponent rushes forwards, a la Lyoto Machida. Other than that, he's a good clinch fighter, he can hit takedowns but doesn't, and has a fairly dangerous left liver kick.
David: Nailed it. Dodson would be an absolute terror if he worked harder in lateral movement inside the pocket. Except he has the unrefined instinct of backing straight up. Kind of like Michael Bisping, who still awkwardly responds to pressure with jittery steps. Difference being, Dodson moves in and out like the wind. I don't know that I'd really describe Dodson as a counter-fighter. Which you don't actually call him, granted. Pure counter fighters have a sense of timing, rhythm, and transition punching. Dodson doesn't really transition his strikes into attacks from different angles. He's static in output: not so much timing punches, but rather, letting time afford him the few opportunities he needs to shut off the CPU. He's a fighter of economy with no sense of punch bartering.
Phil: John Lineker goes punch punch punch punch.
OK, there has to be a bit more. Here goes. Lineker wades forward without a whole lot of concern for his own well being. He doesn't have particularly good pressure footwork, nor does he have much in the way of defense. What he has is great spatial instincts and unreal durability, allowing him to press forward and cut away the areas that he can't with footwork with huge, sweeping hooks to the body and a clubbing leg kick. His takedown defense and counter grappling has improved, as has his cardio.
Of the two fighters, Lineker has less hand speed and power, but in some ways this only makes him more terrifying- he torques his full weight into every shot, but never seems to get tired or discouraged.
David: Lineker is a pure throwback. Like a Blockbuster overcharge fee, the mere image of him winging his appendages like a Chopping Mall robot take you back to simpler times. The raw transparency of his game is what makes him hard to prepare for: fighters fail to distinguish between strategy and tactics when dealing with him. Granted, I don't think Rivera or McDonald tried either against him. They just let the chips spontaneously combust where they may. But Lineker has a unique ability to cut off distance with minimal movement, baiting opponents with the open counter he can absorb like waffles to win on the crack back.
Insight from Past Fights
Phil: Ali Bagautinov fought a similar kind of spatial fight to the one that Dodson needs to- he backed up and as Lineker chased, he came in with counter takedowns. Dodson can and likely will attempt to replicate that with the straight left instead of the takedown.
David: Dodson is not about to get caught up in a face punching contest. But what I think is interesting about this fight is that with five rounds on record, he's not the kind of dual threat who can punish Lineker for being taken down. Dodson has some ground and pound, but nothing that will threaten Lineker, nor make him think twice about in creating scrambles Dodson could otherwise punish with better submission grappling.
Phil: Well, Lineker missed weight. Apparently he made it too early...? What a weird guy he is. Anyway, he's managed to do OK despite missing weight in the past. I think the real one is both guy's chins. Neither have ever been particularly badly hurt, but they are both very special punchers. Dodson is also getting up there in age for a smaller fighter who relies almost entirely on speed.
David: Pretty much. Missing weight hasn't done much to Lineker. Perhaps the nerves of sniffing a title shot against the silver tongued Dominick Cruz? Everyone loves trying to trash talk him it seems.
Phil: Dodson strikes me as someone who often sits around waiting for the perfect opportunity to land the biggest, hardest, cleanest shot he can. Lineker honestly strikes me as someone who will give him that opportunity, and no matter how much of a chin he's shown, I can't bet on someone walking face-first into John Dodson's fist and being OK. That being said, Dodson has also shown that he can be discouraged in fights, and Lineker has a special ability to break people's will. In all, an early Dodson win would be one of the more boring possible outcomes... but it's what I think will happen. John Dodson by TKO, round 2
David: I think the issue here is that Dodson will be able to land often, and get away often. The only reason I think Lineker makes this interesting is because Dodson can't just take him down over and over for five rounds with total comfort. If that happens, I won't be shocked, but I just don't anticipate Dodson feeling the urge to use so much wrestling given his reputation. John Dodson by Decision.