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UFC Fight Night: John Lineker vs Michael McDonald Toe to Toe Preview - A Complete Breakdown

Phil and David break down everything you need to know about a good 'ole fashioned barnburner between Lineker and McDoanld for UFN 91, and everything you don't about which Rocky film this fight will look most like.

Artwork by Phil MacKenzie

The certified slugfest takes the bantamweight division by storm this July 13, 2016 at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

One sentence summary

Phil: One of the many pleasing combinations of bantamweights provides a main event which is well worth your time, honest, guv.

David: A fight that will look like it was written by Stallone himself.


Record: John Lineker 27-7 Michael McDonald 17-3

Odds: John Lineker -160 Michael McDonald +150

History / Introduction to both fighters:

Phil: Michael McDonald was whispered about back in WEC as being one of those kids who was going to take over the sport when he grew up. To be fair, this was no Chris Horodecki / Stefan Struve case of missing the raw athleticism wood for the early-start trees. McDonald was blindingly physical- a bundle of fast twitch muscle, scrambling and power punching. He was a good looking, personable country boy, keying into one of the UFC's most profitable demographics.

So... what happened? I mean, he's fought for an interim belt already, he's still very young, but I honestly don't think he's developed much (if at all) since WEC. Partially this is due to injuries keeping him on the shelf, but largely it's got to be due to his training with his brothers. Essentially he seems to be much the same guy as he ever was. Still dangerous, but flawed.

David: McDonald kind of reminds me of Brian Bowles. That's only a terrible comparison in retrospect, but at the time Bowles had just destroyed Miguel Torres, who himself was lauded the WEC world over. Both guys relied on their power, and both guys always seemed beholden to a stereotype of power punching. Granted, McDonald will never be out of the job, and in jail for drug and weapons charges (can you believe Bowles is 36??) like the former Best Buy brawler, but still. You certainly have to question his ceiling at this point. Granted, we should be too hard on him. After all, he's only lost to Faber and Barao. Barao was in his prime, and Faber has shown he's still got plenty left.

Phil: I'm not sure I ever thought I'd be writing about John Lineker in a main event that wasn't going to be a 5-round Demetrious Johnson blowout, but here we are, and... I'm kind of jazzed about it. The MMA metagame is increasingly populated by recognizable types, but Lineker genuinely stands alone, as a short boulder of angry anger that punches like his opponents guts like they're pinatas full of delicious food.

He ate his way out of flyweight, but his short stature hasn't hurt him thus far at bantamweight. In fact, all it's done is make the visual of this squat tank chasing people around the octagon more amusing.

David: It took me awhile to appreciate Lineker's Hulk Smash method of fighting. The weight cutting bothered me I guess, and so I always took it as a sign of his inevitable crash. Like a more stable Diego Brandao, but with a similar career. It wasn't until the Rivera fight that I began to "see the light". And by that I mean feverishly munch popcorn relishing the sheer joy of the pugilistic slaughter. Can he take those fists of fury all the way to the top though?

What's at stake?

Phil: The upper ends of bantamweight are unbooked. Caraway is demanding a title shot, Dillashaw just beat Assuncao, and Garbrandt just beat Almeida. Any one of those guys would be a possibility for the winner. More than that, this fight cements what bantamweight is increasingly good at- producing guaranteed action fights with fighters that will likely be present in the org for a while to come. Putting them as headliners is a solid investment.

David: More than hardware, I'd argue longevity. Rare fights have the ability to do rare damage. Think JDS/Cain (well, if you ignore their recent performances that debunk that narrative), Ward/Gatti, et cetera. I'm not sold on this fight being a Mortal Kombat fatality sequence, but there will certainly be sequences that challenge the biological principles of the phoenix.

Where do they want it?

Phil: McDonald is primarily a counter boxer. He has a clean and neatly chambered bolt of a right hand, a slightly less technical left hook, a right uppercut and a fairly quick right round kick to the body. He also likes to stop takedowns and step-ins from shorter opponents with a stepping knee. Despite looking skinny, pasty and underwhelming, he's a genuinely great athlete for the division and hits like a truck. He has vicious killer instinct and can hit some wonderful sprint-grappling submissions. .

His weaknesses are that he's the classic "best athlete at the small-town gym" fighter, namely someone who looks like they've learned singular techniques better than anyone else around them, then got bored and moved onto learning something else. So, he's got some crazy esoterica in his back pocket, but he also has a game which doesn't make a whole lot of sense, with notable basic flaws in footwork, foot positioning, defensive wrestling and being far, far too content fighting off his back. He can get away with a lot of this because he's fast and powerful as hell. Essentially, he doesn't represent the darkest timeline for the Sage Northcutt story, but he's not the best outcome either.

David: With McDonald, all roads to that right hand. The small town charm of it is that he displays a unique small town loyalty to it. If this sounds like a whimsical description of his boxing, or just random bullshit, it's because you forgot who violently he threw that right hand from his knees against a standing, threatening Brad Pickett. It was glorious. But it's not the kind of thing elite fighters will let happen.

Having said that, you can get away with a lack of dimensionality in MMA through approach. McDonald doesn't have great footwork, but when his opponent is backed against the cage, he has great instincts: knowing when to step away and pivot in order to attack from a different angle. That inclusion of 'fight geometry' is a welcome wrinkle to his game because without that fight minutiae in his arsenal, his lack of dimensionality would that much more pronounced.

Phil: John Lineker is a ball of violence. In many ways, his game doesn't make a lot of sense either, but in others it works perfectly. He was a short flyweight, and is straight-up stumpy as a bantamweight, which normally means that he'd have to be quick on his feet. But he isn't.

OK, so what about his pressure footwork, pretty good right? No, it's not fantastic either. Mostly he just follows people around. So what makes him special? Essentially that he can throw lots of punches with bonecrushing power; that even if his footwork isn't brilliant he has an excellent understanding of how to cut the cage with sweeping hooks or leg kicks; and that he has a jaw made of solid concrete.

David: As Jon Anik says, you do not want to fight John Lineker on a napkin in the center of the octagon. I feel like we've been selling these guys both short in the technique department, but they sort of deserve it. Lineker is much more economic with his punches than given credit for, but that economy doesn't come from a deep understanding of footwork, angles, or technique. It comes from a very binary Do or Don't I Throw This Punch Here way of thinking. Again, this is MMA. Technique will always take a backseat to efficiency. And Lineker is efficient at releasing combinations in the pocket or against the fence. Once there, his power takes over with those meat tenderizing body shots (especially the left hook). He has a good athletic sprawl, and doesn't panic on the ground but I don't know that there's much to say beyond that. Let's face it. Lineker is the transitional fossil on the low end of the Joanna Jedrzejczyk evolution chart.

Insight from past fights?

Phil: The fight which made me really sad for McDonald was the Faber loss. One thing you can say about Faber is that he's not exactly unpredictable- for an athlete of McDonald's caliber, there's no reason not to come in at least partially prepared for Faber's overhand right. Instead McDonald's footwork fell to pieces and he was stunned and tapped out in short order. It was a fairly damning indictment of how little stability his game has, and unfortunately for Mayday, I think that you need a very, very stable game to beat Lineker.

David: I would say forget insight. Just watch McDonald vs. Pickett and Lineker vs. Rivera because they're caricatures of prizefighting. I mean that in the best way possible too. Good films don't have to be serious, just like good fights don't have to be technical. Some of the best championship fights in history were sloppy as fuck. Drama occurs precisely because there's an absence of perfection. And this fight will be very dramatic.


Phil: Reverse ring-rust? What I mean is that McDonald looked terrible last time out, but that was after a near-two year layoff. Hopefully he's shaken it off a little this time.

David: Reverse ring rust for Lineker. I'm sure he can still feel Rivera's hammers landing against his cranium.


Phil: This fight has odd echoes of Silva-Cormier. The short guy needs to close distance, and the taller guy is an absolutely voracious finisher. However, the short guy is absurdly durable and will likely tear the taller guy to bits once he closes in. John Lineker by TKO, round 2.

David: TKO is bold. Even though McDonald got cracked by Faber of all people, Faber does a credible job of sneaking his punches in. Lineker's approach to prizefighting has the assembled nuance of Roland Emmerich disaster porn. But I agree. John Lineker by TKO, round 2.

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