This Saturday night (Feb. 1, 2014) Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) flyweights John Lineker and Ali Bagautinov will go to war on the pay-per-view (PPV) main card of UFC 169 from Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.
Number five-ranked Lineker has been on a tear as of late, winning 17 out of his last 18 mixed martial arts (MMA) bouts. Last seen dismantling Phil Harris at UFC Fight Night 30, "Hands of Stone" has put his last three foes away via technical knockout. He's also had a lot of trouble making weight, something that could halt his rise up the 125-pound rankings.
Number seven-ranked Bagautinov won his only two Octagon bouts, the latest being a decision victory over Tim Elliott at UFC 167. "Puncher" is primed for a meteoric rise if he can knock out an opponent of Lineker's caliber.
Lineker and Bagautinov have very similar nicknames and very similar skill sets. With UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson having cleared out the top four contenders at 125 pounds, the winner of this bout could very well receive the next title shot, so the stakes are high.
Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Lineker and Bagautinov:
Record: 23-6 overall, 4-1 UFC
Key Wins: Phil Harris (UFC Fight Night 30) Jose Maria (UFC 163), Azamat Gashimov (UFC on FX 8)
Key Losses: Louis Gaudinot (UFC on FOX 3)
Keys to Victory: The former Jungle Fight bantamweight champion has earned every bit of his "Hands of Stone" moniker, as he's knocked out 11 opponents, including three straight. His punching power is definitely some of the flyweight division's best.
It's no secret that Lineker is going to be looking for the highlight reel finish early and often in Newark. He's the kind of fighter that puts on a show every time out to the cage, and UFC 169 should be no different. Despite Bagautinov's comparable striking power, Lineker has never been knocked out and will have a ton of confidence in his chin.
He just can't get careless.
Lineker has been submitted three times in his six losses, and Bagautinov is the proud owner of a long list of high-level grappling accomplishments. Despite "Puncher's" recent preference for striking, Lineker has to be careful if and when this fight hits the ground. He isn't well known for his Brazilian jiu-jitsu because he hasn't really needed to use it all that much.
He does have good takedown defense, avoiding nearly three out of four takedowns attempts in UFC. That's going to pay off big should Bagautinov look to throw him to the canvas. If Lineker can sprawl out some takedowns, he has a chance to tire out his opponent and set him up for the huge knockout.
More than anything else, Lineker is going to throw caution to the wind and see whose hands can do the most damage. He's betting big that it's going to be his.
Record: 12-2 overall, 2-0 UFC
Key Wins: Tim Elliott (UFC 167), Marcus Vinicius (UFC Fight Night 28)
Key Losses: None
Keys to Victory: Bagautinov, the 2012 FIAS World Combat Sambo gold medalist, is a longtime grappler who has a massive list of achievements on the mat. He's translated that skill set into four submissions inside the cage, but he's recently shifted his focus toward boxing and the results have nothing less than stellar.
With three technical knockout finishes in his last four bouts, Bagautinov has quickly cemented himself as one of the world's most dangerous flyweights. If he can put a stamp on the notoriously tough "Hands of Stone," he'll be high up on the short list of worthy contenders waiting for a shot at "Mighty Mouse."
To accomplish that task, Bagautinov has to remain calm in the face of danger. He fought on the main card of one of last year's biggest shows at UFC 167 and won, so we've already seen that "Puncher" can harness the pressure of the big stage. But, that was against Tim Elliott, who is not the dynamic finisher that Lineker is.
Bagautinov can't fall in love with his striking too much at UFC 169. Even though he's never been knocked out, Lineker can end any flyweight's night in a flash. Lineker can barely make weight for the division, so he usually has a decent size advantage over his opponents.
"Puncher" will be best served to take this fight to the ground. He'll hold a decided advantage there and Lineker has shown he can be submitted. If Bagautinov can drag Lineker to the ground, he'll go a long way in neutralizing "Hands of Stone's" thunderous punches while potentially opening up the door for a choke or an armbar.
Bagautinov has looked next to flawless in his short UFC tenure. This fight is going to show his readiness to contend with the division's elite. His smoothest path to proving that lies in his grappling skills.
Bottom Line from New Jersey: The bottom line for this fight is that it's going to shape the future of the UFC flyweight division. With Johnson being such a dominant champion right now, there just aren't that many challengers left for him. True, he might knock out Lineker and Bagautinov, but the winner of this fight deserves to at least find out. Whether they actually get a title shot or not remains to be seen.
This bout has the potential to be one of the most exciting fights at UFC 169, and that's something you don't usually say about a flyweight contest. Lineker and Bagautinov are two highly-exciting combatants who love to mix it up and throw big shots with bad intentions. Each one is aware of the stakes on the line, and each one is looking to get the job done with ruthless efficiency.
Don't be surprised if this turns into a heated contest that ends up winning "Fight of the Night." It would be unexpected if we were to see Lineker or Bagautinov knocked out for the first time, but with the power that these two bring to the Octagon, anything is possible.
If Bagautinov wants to fight smart and grind out a decision, he'll attempt to take Lineker down early on. If he looks to prove he can strike with one of the best in his division, we're going to have a war on our hands.
John Lineker and Ali Bagautinov will break out the heavy artillery at UFC 169. Does the winner deserve to fight for the title?