Two highly talented Brazilian flyweights will take center stage this Saturday night (Aug. 3, 2013) as powerful striker John Lineker takes on UFC newcomer Jose Maria Tome in the opening bout of the UFC 163 main card in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.
Lineker is on the heels of three highly entertaining UFC fights, including two straight wins. He rose to the occasion in his most recent performance, knocking out Russian prospect Azamat Gashimov less than three months ago in one of his most complete performances. He's hoping to continue that momentum against Tome.
Tome rose to the occasion, stepping in for the injured Phil Harris to accept the fight against Lineker on short notice. He's very experienced, actually fighting more often than Lineker and was previously ranked the number two unsigned flyweight prospect in the world. He'll be trying to prove everyone correct with a successful debut.
Record: 21-6 overall, 2-1 in the UFC
Key Losses: Louis Gaudinot (UFC on Fox 3)
How he got here: Believe it or not, despite his prominent record now, Lineker actually had a very slow start to his MMA career, only winning six of his first 11 fights. In the beginning of 2010, something clicked and not only was Lineker winning again, but he closed the year by scoring his first two submission victories.
If 2010 was good with six wins, 2011 was even better as "Hands of Stone" blasted his way to a perfect seven wins in seven fights, putting himself on an overall 13 fight winning streak and claiming the Jungle Fight bantamweight title in the process.
Lineker was scooped up by UFC and committed to the flyweight division, but he had no support from his team in his promotional debut in the United States as he failed to make weight and had to borrow equipment from fellow fighters. Despite the adversity, he managed to put on a "Fight of the Night"-winning performance against Louis Gaudinot, although he was submitted at the end of the second round.
The Brazilian bounced back in his next fight, a violent battle against flyweight tournament participant Yasuhiro Urushitani, coming out on top after 15 hard-fought minutes. He last competed this past May, putting on his most complete career performance against Azamat Gashimov by stuffing takedowns and landing heavy right hands en route to a second round TKO, his first UFC stoppage victory.
How he gets it done: Lineker is a no-nonsense striker. He doesn't throw the straightest punches, but he throws with authority. The Brazilian possesses rare power for a flyweight and has already scored multiple knockdowns in his brief UFC career.
Look for him to try and stand at proper distance on the edge of the pocket and then explode inside with his right hand. This strategy hasn't failed him often and he's quickly becoming a very dangerous out for anyone in the division.
If Tome tries to take it to the ground, Lineker's defense has improved immensely. He was able to either quickly stuff or immediately pop up from Gashimov's takedown attempts in his most recent fight and Gashimov was a large fighter known for his wrestling. That was a tremendous step for Lineker. He should also make sure to stay composed in the cage. If Lineker fires off too many wayward power strikes, he could tire himself out.
Lineker should either look for the early knockout with that nasty right hand or instead pick and choose his shots as Tome has a bad habit of occasionally dropping his hands. That would be an ideal time to pounce.
Jose Maria Tome
Record: 33-3 (2 NC) overall, 0-0 in the UFC
Key Wins: none
Key Losses: Jussier Formiga (OBF 7)
How he got here: Tome has been at this for years, starting his professional career in 2004. Unlike Lineker, he started hot, going on a 13 fight winning streak all the way up to 2008 when he ran into the much larger Leandro Higo.
Tome experienced a few setbacks in '08, notably losing to future top-ranked flyweight and current UFC fighter Jussier Formiga, but he put it all together by the end of the year. Since July of 2008, he has not tasted defeat again, going on a 17 fight unbeaten streak while competing all over the local Brazilian circuit.
When Phil Harris went down with an injury, Tome rose to the occasion, signing a contract with UFC to take on one of his fellow countryman in his native Brazil. At 31 years of age, it's better late than never.
How he gets it done: Tome needs to be very careful against Lineker as he doesn't possess the same one-punch power as his Octagon counterpart. What he does possess is some solid striking technique on the feet which he could use to pick Lineker apart, particularly if his opponent gets too pumped up before the fight and gets wild.
The key for Tome is to keep his hands up, find an opening and work his straight punches. Lineker tends to loop his strikes so if he plays his cards right, he can get his blows to land first and fluster him.
If an opportunity presents itself, "No Chance" should absolutely look to take the fight to the ground. He has a terrific skill-set on the canvas and has finished 13 fights via submission so it's not out of the realm of possibility that he could finish Lineker should he drag him to the canvas.
Time is also on Tome's side as Lineker has a bad habit of going too hard early in fights and slowing down by the later rounds. If he can survive into the third round, he'll have a much less likely chance of getting submitted and could take the fight over late.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest factor for this fight is whether Tome has what it takes to hang with the big boys. We often see fighters come from Brazil having beat up on the local circuit, but everyone in the UFC flyweight division is far and above just about anyone he's faced thus far despite his large amount of fights. We could see the next Renan Barao, but it could also be a Lucas Martins. What we do know is that Tome has come up short against the only current UFC fighter he's faced thus far in his career. This will be a big test for him.
Bottom Line: If Tome comes to fight, we could have quite a battle on our hands. Many analysts with a keen eye for talent are raving about Tome's abilities and the same people were hyping up Lineker before he made his UFC debut. Both men are more than capable on the feet and we could have some potential for a very fun slugfest if everything plays out perfectly. It all depends on both fighter's gameplans and how much they change once someone's been punched in the face.
Who will come out on top at UFC 163? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!