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John Lineker has had all kinds of problems during his frustrating Ultimate Fighting Championship run, but Michael McDonald wasn’t one of them. The talented bantamweight folded McDonald, a former interim title challenger, midway through the opening round of their UFC Fight Night 91 main event and staked his claim for a chance at UFC gold.
That’s where things get a little bit tricky.
Lineker was supposed to have been on the fast track to title consideration after bursting onto the scene as a hot prospect in the flyweight division. He dropped his first fight for the promotion in 2012 after showing up in New Jersey with no corner and no translator. Since then he has gone 9-1 but was forced up to 135 pounds after repeated issues on the scale.
No one has ever doubted this guy’s ability. He’s as aggressive as they come, wields a couple of precision-guided bombs for hands and has one hell of a chin, as evidenced in his bout with McDonald on Wednesday at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Now that he’s at a more comfortable weight, the once surefire title contender looks like he’s back on track.
I don’t know about you, but I’d love to see him get a crack at bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz. He’s probably a fight or two away at this point, but that should put Lineker in line to fight some of the others on the fringe of contention. Perhaps a Cody Garbrandt fight could be in his future since the two were scheduled to dance in February before Lineker was forced from the bout due to illness.
How about a Lineker-John Dodson clash? It’s exciting to think about the possibilities. The division needs an infusion of new challengers for Cruz, and Lineker, Garbrandt and Bryan Caraway should provide that over the next eight to 12 months.
‘El Cucuy’ Stays in Conversation
Tony Ferguson seemed poised to compete for a slot in a lightweight championship fight against Michael Johnson, Khabib Nurmagomedov or Michael Chiesa, but none of those fights materialized due to injuries to one party or another. First, Johnson withdrew from a March date, and then Ferguson dropped out of scheduled match with Nurmagomedov due to a lung issue. Finally, Chiesa exited the UFC Fight Night main event, leaving Ferguson to face undefeated newcomer Landon Vannata.
I’m sure it wasn’t the ideal sequence of events or opposition for Ferguson, who was hoping to establish himself as the No. 1 contender for Eddie Alvarez’s newly minted lightweight title. He was coming off an incredibly exciting and impressive second-round submission win over Edson Barboza and had to figure one more victory would get him into position to fight for the belt. No offense to Vannata, but I can’t imagine Ferguson was too amped about the no-win situation.
The five-to-one favorite almost let one slip away, as Vannata, a highly touted prospect in his own right, hurt him early and banked the first round on all three judges’ cards. It was just enough of a wakeup call for the favored Ferguson. “El Cucuy” came out slinging in the second round and backed up Vannata with repeated shots that bloodied his face and left him visibly flustered.
Ferguson blasted him with a Superman punch and follow-up shots before sinking the fight-ending choke at 2:22 of the second round. It was an excellent performance for the newcomer Vannata, who, along with Ferguson, notched the $50,000 “Fight of the Night” bonus. The young charge out of the Jackson-Wink MMA camp acquitted himself nicely against one of the best lightweights in the world and padded his wallet with an impressive UFC debut.
The 32-year-old Ferguson should be happy with his performance, as well. The toolsy lightweight made the best of a rough situation and did nothing to weaken his standing in the division. I’m not sure he’ll be getting the call ahead of Nurmagomedov or maybe even the recently dethroned Rafael dos Anjos, but he’s right there in the conversation -- and deservedly so.
Sherdog.com Executive Editor Greg Savage can be reached by email or via Twitter @TheSavageTruth.