People love Brazilian bantamweight John Lineker (31-8 MMA, 12-3 UFC). Since 2012, Lineker has blessed the UFC audience with a style that mainly seems to consists of winging hooks until someone goes down.
Lineker’s fan-friendly, “punch first ask questions later” style has earned him an unofficial nickname – “John F***ing Lineker”, or “JFL” for short. You will hear this much more often than his listed nickname of “Hands of Stone”, a tribute to boxing legend Roberto Duran.
While I’m thankful JFL is commonly worshipped, it is a bit disappointing to sometimes see his skill set minimized.
Not only is Lineker more than a mindless brawler, he’s an active body puncher, one of the most underutilized approaches in MMA today, and historically.
For your viewing pleasure: John Lineker’s best body punching over the years.
vs. Azamat Gashimov (2013)
John Lineker was the first Brazilian fighter in the UFC flyweight division. Perhaps feeling pressure to represent the MMA cultural legacy left behind by Chute Boxe, Lineker brawled recklessly against Louis Gaudinot.
But in subsequent fights against Yasuhiro Urushitani and Azamat Gashimov, Lineker picked his spots a bit more intelligently.
While Lineker did go to the body in his first pair of bouts, there wasn’t a great deal of thought behind it. I will say that the majority of the UFC roster still fails to even target the body, mindlessly or not.
Against Gashimov, Lineker gave us a look at what would become his signature tactic – lace up the body and then sling hooks to the head. Lineker has the chin to lead however he wants, and the power to encourage his opponents to back away with their guard up. That unique combination makes the body a perfect target.
Lineker is quite plodding at times, it often disguises the fact that he is pretty dang athletic.
Against Gashimov, the bodywork was so effective that Lineker didn’t even need to wait for the process to take hold and for the head to open up.
Pounding hooks to the obliques left Gashimov fragile. While a rear round kick to the body appeared to be the culprit in the finishing sequence, Gashimov was ultimately done in by Lineker’s attritive body punching attack.
vs. Phil Harris (2013)
Lineker returned to his brainless ways against José Maria Tomé, and got very lucky that Tomé suffered an injury that led to a finish for Lineker. Watch that fight, it’s bizarre to see John Lineker actually hurt by punches and in trouble for long stretches like that.
In a much safer fight against grappler Phil Harris, Lineker got back to rib roasting.
Phil “Billy” is a great nickname IMO.
This may shock some people, but John Lineker has a good jab. He doesn’t use it very much, but his form is fine at worst, and he uses it with purpose, unlike many UFC fighters. A Lineker favorite seems to be jabbing into a huge right hook to the body. He does mix up his combinations by going jab then right to the head, so his opponents have good reason to allow this entry.
Over the fight, Lineker builds on this, jabbing, slamming in the right hook, then digging the left to the liver. If his opponent is especially defensive or stuck against the cage, he’ll just keep going, relentlessly hammering the body.
Phil Harris did not have the firepower, tactics, or durability to keep Lineker off him, and was finished by a sinister series ending with a right hand right beneath the ribs.
vs. Alptekin Ozkilic (2014)
Everyone loves John Lineker’s insane brawl with Francisco Rivera, but this will forever be my favorite Lineker fight and performance.
A wrestler at heart, Alptekin Ozkilic was starting to turn into a fairly competent boxer by the time he met Lineker. This fight followed an upsetting loss to Ali Bagautinov for Lineker, in which he was taken down and controlled for long stretches.
Lineker’s hips, takedown defense (hand fighting, cross-facing, pushing the head, etc), and even offensive wrestling looked dramatically improved against Ozkilic. It doesn’t hurt that Lineker carries his hands by his hips, ready to catch doubles and dig for underhooks immediately.
Ozkilic had a decent amount of success in the first round. Lineker works off momentum, and Ozkilic countered with venom and used his takedown attempts to stop Lineker from building a pace. But once Lineker found that he could wrestle with Ozkilic and that threat was eliminated, he got to work without hesitation.
I saw this fight live with a great view. Be very jealous.
Here you’ll see Lineker jabbing and hitting his familiar combinations referenced in the Harris fight. What’s even more surreal than Lineker jabbing is Lineker boxing, moving his head and countering with mixed volume, and actually keeping Ozkilic at the end of his punches at times.
There is so much beautiful work in this fight, and Lineker kicks in another gear by the third round. Watch those salty combinations as many times as you need to before we move on. My personal favorite is when he doubles up on the left hook, going body then head.
vs. Ian McCall (2015)
I remember after this fight Ian McCall said something along the lines of, “John Lineker sucks.” He doubled down in speaking with MMAJunkie:
“I lost to a guy who sucks. Realistically, he sucks. He’s basic. And I lost to him. So, whatever. It’s MMA. You can still lose and still become champ later. It could be worse.”
It’s a perfect encapsulation of a theme I see often in the MMA meta, from fans and fighters alike. Essentially, “outfighting = technical.” There is so much to dissect there.
1) Infighting is just as much of an art as outfighting, they take different tools and there is an indistinguishable level of “technique” required to pull off either approach.
2) “Brawler” is also a style, and it does not mean a fighter is unrefined or bad technically. That is a trap. Never think that. There are bad outfighters, infighters and brawlers, there are fantastic examples of each as well. Justin Gaethje has slowly transformed into one of the most effective pressure fighters in the UFC, with better-crafted defense than most of the roster, and he is certainly a brawler.
3) Many, many fighters have ruined their games by trying to become outfighters in the name of being “technical” or “fighting smart.” What’s smart is to do what wins you fights, Mike Perry.
Even after Lineker put on a boxing master class against Ozkilic exactly one fight before this, McCall was shocked to find that Lineker was not just some craftless meathead who he could pick apart and take down when he wanted.
Honestly one of the smarter performances of Lineker’s career.
McCall’s outfighting certainly did work for a few minutes in the first round, but he ran into a couple of problems. He also literally ran into Lineker, who was waiting to counter him.
The first problem was that he couldn’t safely secure takedowns. Like Dominick Cruz, McCall’s striking entries mean a lot less when the takedown is not a valid threat. The second problem was that Lineker was starting to get a read on his entries and began to punish McCall badly for walking in on him.
Much of that punishment was to the body, leading to the most significant problem. Bouncy outfighting is extremely energy inefficient, especially when you’re being stalked by a brick-fisted maniac hunting your body, one who you can’t hurt enough to make go away.
Ian McCall shouldn’t feel as bad about this loss as he does, John Lineker doesn’t suck.
vs. Rob Font (2016)
Rob Font is one of the better boxers in the UFC. He jabs and throws combinations well off it, he targets the body, has great form on his punches, and can make anyone pay who doesn’t stay tight in the pocket.
After Lineker’s move up to bantamweight, he often found himself to be the significantly shorter man. This has worked out beautifully.
With the height disparity, Lineker can throw from his hip in his natural stance without any major level changing and still bang the body reliably.
That looks like a horrible experience.
Against someone who is mostly throwing straight punches to set up the rest of his work, Lineker found it fairly easy to dip under Font’s offense and smash away at his organs.
You can see one of Lineker’s money combinations at play, right hook to the body, left hook to the head. That combination not only allows Lineker to get stupid torque into his left hook, it also plays off the threat of the left to the body following the right.
vs. Michael McDonald (2016)
Michael McDonald is a really nice guy, and I feel bad about his constant hand-breaking. So we’ll keep this brief.
He didn’t have the tools to keep Lineker away from him, he believed in his power and was willing to throw back when cornered, and he got bombed on.
Sorry Mr. McDonald.
You can see Lineker go right hook body-left hook body a few times before the finishing sequence. As discussed, this gets McDonald to lower his elbow after the right hook, setting up a sickening knockout.
vs. John Dodson (2016)
Lineker’s chin was very important in this fight. Dodson did a really great job countering Lineker’s advances in the first half of the fight. At one point John Lineker eats a rear round kick to the dome and doesn’t blink. That’s just not fair.
Having found it tiring to counter with power over time, Dodson began to back straight up and was repeatedly trapped against the cage. Lineker was actually doing a great job punting the leg as Dodson exited off the cage in the first couple of rounds, but his wide body hooking approach is also extremely effective for cutting off lateral (and linear!) retreats.
When Dodson was eventually tired and stuck, Lineker battered him.
John Dodson is crazy tough for taking those beatings.
I do commend Dodson’s defense against the cage, he did about as much as someone could standing still in front of Lineker’s barrage.
vs. Marlon Vera (2017)
Marlon Vera is a talented and interesting fighter, if you don’t know that yet, please read this.
This was an attempt at revenge for Team Oyama, Vera was looking to win one back for his teammate Ian McCall.
Vera had one of the best performances against Lineker in a loss that I’ve seen. His low kicking was sharp and well-timed, the teeps were working, and Vera catching the double collar tie to interrupt Lineker’s charge was a great idea.
Proud of Chito.
Unfortunately, Lineker is excellent at getting the timing for his opponent’s attacks, and he eventually found his entries off Vera’s kicking.
I didn’t see anything strikingly new from Lineker, but he was less effective than I expected working the body off Vera’s double collar tie. He looked fairly uncomfortable and pushed the fight to the fence every time.
vs. Brian Kelleher (2018)
While Brian Kelleher doesn’t quite stand out as a striker, he’s usually measured and tricky with his counters. For the most part, Kelleher can deal with one strike or short combination at a time, his defense doesn’t go deep enough to deal with a sustained assault. There’s nothing John Lineker does better than sustain an assault.
This would have been another great fight to double up on and change levels with the left hook, but it all worked out.
This is probably Lineker’s second-best right-body to left-head performance in the UFC, behind the McDonald fight. It only took one round against McDonald, whereas against Kelleher, Lineker needed to bank three rounds of body punishment before he convinced Kelleher to lower his guard.
vs. Cory Sandhagen, UFC Fort Lauderdale (2019)
Cory Sandhagen sees himself as Dominick Cruz 2.0, but I liken him more to Carlos Condit 2.0, which is still totally a compliment.
Sandhagen is a very aesthetic striker, an artistic kicker with nice combination punching of his own. His defense is a bit tighter than Condit’s, but it’s still a weak area for him. Sandhagen does seem to need to be an outfighter in most of his bouts, and as we’ve seen, that can be a disaster against John Lineker.
I can definitely see Sandhagen chewing Lineker up a bit from the outside, and nailing smart counters on Lineker’s entries, but something has to give eventually. At this point in his career, if his chin is what it’s always been, it’s not a match-up I expect Lineker to lose.
Eventually, Lineker will find his body, he’ll build on that work, and Sandhagen will be taking a beating by the third round. I’m quite interested to see what approach Sandhagen takes. Maybe we’ll see new or interesting tactics in attacking a unique challenge in John Lineker.
If you like boxers and body punchers in MMA…
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