They will fight in the shade of the recently completed International Fight Week.
Ultimate Fighting Championship bantamweight contenders Michael McDonald and John Lineker are set to collide in the UFC Fight Night 91 main event on Wednesday at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Meanwhile, surging lightweight force Tony Ferguson meets short-notice newcomer Landon Vannata in the co-main event.
The rest of the 12-fight card features a mixture of veterans, prospects and former regional champions, as the UFC touches down in The Mount Rushmore State for the first time in its history. Let us take a closer look at the UFC Fight Night “McDonald vs. Lineker” lineup, with analysis and picks:
BantamweightsMichael McDonald (17-3) vs. John Lineker (27-7)
THE MATCHUP: Before submitting Masanori Kanehara at UFC 195, McDonald’s last fight was in December 2013. He has fought one time in the past 31 months; and unlike fellow bantamweight Dominick Cruz, McDonald’s return was not an effortless triumph. Instead, he spent the better part of two rounds being completely stifled by Kanehara before pulling out a stunning rear-naked choke. The result hinted that -- like his No. 5 spot in the UFC rankings -- McDonald’s MMA game might be a relic of the past.
While McDonald has been laid up recovering from a litany of injuries, Lineker has been putting in work. Forced to abandon the flyweight division after missing weight against Ian McCall, whom he beat, Lineker has since rattled off two impressive wins in the bantamweight division. As it turns out, the horrendous weight cuts were a blessing in disguise, as a 135-pound Lineker is more energetic and aggressive than the flyweight iteration, no longer so concerned with his gas tank. For comparison, Lineker threw 132 punches in 15 minutes with McCall. Against Francisco Rivera, in a bantamweight debut that lasted just about two minutes, he threw 64. In his most recent bout, a dominant victory over top prospect Rob Font, he threw 200. Bantamweight Lineker is even scarier than flyweight Lineker, if that can be believed.
Like his original version, bantamweight Lineker is a ferocious pressure fighter who throws almost nothing but power shots. Lineker attacks the body with glee and usually follows up to the head immediately after connecting. His approach is one of mental and physical attrition: In order to avoid Lineker’s punches, you must scare him off, but in order to scare him off, you must plant your feet, thus opening yourself up for his punches. There is also the fact that Lineker does not seem capable of being scared off, at least if his mind-boggling 128-second war with Rivera is any indication.
McDonald, however, just might have what it takes to derail Lineker’s bantamweight career. He is a crushing power puncher in his own right, possibly more concussive than Lineker, with a 45-percent knockout rate to Lineker’s 35 percent. McDonald, quite tall for a bantamweight, specializes in uppercuts and combinations of short punches. He fights better tall than he does long. Even so, McDonald is also more fragile than Lineker, having been knocked out by Cole Escovedo and submitted by Urijah Faber after a thunderous knockdown. Lineker has never been KO’d in 34 professional fights.
McDonald’s submission game is more developed than Lineker’s and, as in the case of his most recent fight, it has often proven a helpful last resort for the young contender. McDonald’s approach to jiu-jitsu is old-school. He is more than happy to play guard and throw up triangles and armbars, lacking the “60-second guard” mentality espoused by modern trainers such as Firas Zahabi. Lineker lacks McDonald’s submission savvy, but he is capable of attacking a neck now and again. He overcame Ian McCall’s takedown threat by locking up a tight guillotine in the second round, and he used the same hold to finish a scrambled Rivera.
THE ODDS: Lineker (-170), McDonald (+145)
THE PICK: Can you say fireworks? Whatever happens, it is bound to be exciting. It does feel, however, that McDonald is in for a rude awakening. Despite a fairly close fight with Renan Barao in 2013, McDonald’s game just feels like something from another era. His boxing is fairly new-school, but judging by the Kanehara fight, his takedown defense and scrambling have not improved. The problem is most likely not purely technical but strategic. McDonald fights out of a small gym with no other notable pros, and his game has stagnated as a result. Lineker’s game has not changed much, either, but the move to bantamweight has allowed it to blossom. With five rounds to work, I expect that blossom to turn into a mushroom cloud. The pick is Lineker by fourth-round TKO.
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