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Lineker vs Dillashaw is next big bantamweight clash to make

TJ Dillashaw celebrates after defeating Renan Barao during their bantamweight mixed martial arts title bout during UFC Chicago on Saturday, July 25, 2015, in Chicago. Dillashaw won in the fourth round.(AP Photo/Jeff Haynes)
(AP Photo/Jeff Haynes)

When the Dominick Cruz vs. Cody Garbrandt bantamweight title clash was made official as the co-main event for UFC 207 there were undoubtedly going to be some deserving contenders disappointed about being passed over. Both ex-champion T.J. Dillashaw and heavy-handed Brazilian John Lineker thought that they had made strong cases to face “The Dominator” next after emerging victorious in their last appearances. In the end UFC brass had other ideas and opted for a compelling stylistic matchup between the technically brilliant champion against the No. 6-ranked challenger who possesses legitimate one-punch knockout power.

The decision on who would be granted a title shot against Cruz was seemingly a two-horse race with Garbrandt and Dillashaw leading the pack. The undefeated Garbrandt has established himself as one of the division’s most explosive fighters and the Team Alpha Male product has been quick to generate plenty of heat in a constant war of words with the ultra-slick champion. Dillashaw had done his best to try and secure a rematch with Cruz by rebounding from his title loss with a dominant unanimous decision win over Raphael Assuncao at UFC 200. That triumph allowed Dillashaw to exact revenge for a previous loss to the Brazilian veteran and snapped the No. 3-ranked contender’s impressive seven-fight win streak.

With both Dillashaw and Lineker in need of a booking it would now make perfect sense for the division’s No. 1- and No. 2-ranked fighters to square off against each other. It’s essentially the next best and important bantamweight fight that can be made. A Dillashaw vs. Lineker matchup would definitely provide a great deal of intrigue given their vastly different fighting styles. It would also be the most suitable contest to determine the next challenger for whoever is sporting gold after Cruz and “No Love” settle their differences inside the Octagon on Dec. 30 in Las Vegas.

Dillashaw became an overnight sensation when he dethroned the seemingly unbeatable Renan Barao in destructive fashion at UFC 173 to win the title. He made two successful defenses before dropping a split-decision verdict against “The Dominator” at Fight Night 81 in January and has been angling to get another crack at Cruz ever since. Their clash was a highly competitive contest in Boston that could’ve gone either way. Dillashaw is currently holding down the No. 1 spot in the latest rankings and is 5-1 in his last six appearances. There’s no question that the Elevation Fight Team stalwart is squarely in the title conversation and simply couldn’t be denied another championship opportunity if he were to emerge successful against the dangerous Lineker.

The No. 2-ranked Lineker has made a strong transition to the 135-pound division after previously emerging as a serious title threat at flyweight. “Hands of Stone” has reeled off four consecutive victories since being forced to move up a weight division and most recently secured a split-decision victory over John Dodson at Fight Night 96. Lineker has also bested Francisco Rivera, Rob Font and former interim title challenger Michael McDonald during his exciting bantamweight tenure. The one area of concern that continues to hound Lineker is his ongoing struggle to make weight. His failure to hit the flyweight target likely cost him a championship fight against dominant 125-pound kingpin Demetrious Johnson and missing weight against “The Magician” was another strike against him despite posting his sixth consecutive victory. Lineker asked for a title fight against Cruz after his latest triumph in Portland but that call fell on deaf ears.

The UFC’s reluctance to book Lineker into a championship bout is more than understandable given his multiple missteps at the scale. A potential matchup against Dillashaw would afford him the opportunity to unquestionably prove he warrants a title clash if he were able to both make weight and produce what would be a huge victory. Lineker is a thrilling competitor to watch with his violent style and constant aggression but still needs to establish some trust with the organization after missing weight five times in two divisions. While he’s had a highly successful Octagon tenure when it comes to wins and losses, the lack of professionalism has been a sore point.

Stylistically a Dillashaw vs. Lineker battle would provide many of the elements that have helped make the bantamweight division one of the most competitive and entertaining in the entire promotion. Dillashaw has outstanding footwork, striking accuracy and volume. He’s showcased the ability to end contests in spectacular fashion, especially in his two lopsided knockout victories over Barao. Dillashaw is comfortable switching stances and makes it tough for his opposition to try and figure out what’s coming next. He’s highly efficient at utilizing angles and distance to inflict damage while staying out of harm’s way. The 30-year-old former champ also possesses a strong wrestling background. He remains as hungry and motivated as ever and has all of the skills necessary to eventually reclaim the belt.

Lineker has already carved out a reputation as being one of the most ferocious competitors in the division. He possesses a hard-charging style that is punctuated by his brutal body attack. The aggressive 26-year-old relies on his winging punches and relentless pressure as his recipe for success. Lineker also has one of the sturdiest chins in the game, which was on full display when he ate multiple head kicks from Dodson without flinching.  He showed in that main event assignment that he had the cardio to last the 25-minute distance and was tenacious to the end. A matchup against Dillashaw would be the ideal chance for Lineker to test himself against a fighter who has many of the attributes that the current champion Cruz has in regards to impressive footwork, unpredictability and stellar defense. Lineker would be facing a height disadvantage against Dillashaw but that’s nothing new for the 5-foot-3 Brazilian.

While having Lineker or Dillashaw face off against surging top-five contenders Jimmie Rivera and Bryan Caraway would make for solid fights, neither of those matchups would provide the sizzle that Lineker against Dillashaw would bring to the table. Given some of the controversy and uncertainty that exists in other weight classes, the UFC has a perfect opportunity to map out the future direction of the 135-pound landscape. The title affair between Cruz and Garbrandt represents one major piece of the puzzle on Dec. 30 while Lineker vs. Dillashaw could provide the other. It’s the next big high-stakes fight that the division needs and given that they’ve combined for 10 Fight Night bonuses along the way it would also likely produce a very fan-friendly scrap.

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