Lineker Vs Dodson: The perks of being small

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Range has always been a key part of fighting. With Champions like Jon Jones, Conor McGregor and  Anderson Silva looming (literally) over their respective weightclasses, it is no surprise that most people assume that a reach advantage is one of the most important factors in a fight. However for every Jon Jones, there is a Stephan Struve. For every Conor McGregor, there is a James Vick. A reach advantage only means what your skills and fighting style can make it mean in the fight. A long reach and tall frame can be a huge disadvantage if not used correctly. Correspondingly, a smaller frame with less reach can be devastatingly effective if used properly.

For this weekend’s headliners John Dodson and John Lineker, their small stature are what makes them so effective, but for very different reasons. As UFC Fight Night 96 draws closer, we take a look at the battle of two of the best flyweights in the world competing in this bantamweight main event.

UFC Fight Night 96 Main Event Breakdown: John Dodson Versus John Lineker

John Lineker: Hands Of Stone

John Lineker has inherited one of the most prestigious nicknames in all of combat sports. “Manos de Pedra”, or “Hands of Stone”, was the name used by one of boxing’s all time greats, Roberto Duran. I am not usually a fan of people appropriating nicknames as iconic as Duran’s, in this case it is justifiable.

The similarities between Lineker and Duran goes far beyond a nickname. Both are smaller fighters who like to be the aggressor. They are both tremendously heavy hitters. Both can take a tremendous amount of punishment. But even more so than any of this, Lineker seems to have picked up a few technical quirks from Duran’s playbook.

The reason most people would not choose to imitate Duran is that to do so requires a very special set of physical traits. Namely his chin and almost unbelievable punching power. Lineker has both of these in spades. This allows him to incorporate one of his most effective weapons, the right hook to the body.

The Wide Right: Compensating for reach

Much like Duran, Lineker is a huge proponent of the wide right hand to the body. This is a great way to compensate for a reach disadvantage. As the body moves much less than the head, it is usually more available. This is Lineker’s go to punch. You can be guaranteed to see it in every single one of his fights. In a sport where body punching is still so rare it is unusual to see someone commit to it so wholeheartedly.

This punch is not normally one to finish a fight (though it does occasionally happen). More often than not it is a herding shot to keep a man in front of you and prevent him circling out. One of the most interesting things about Lineker is how well he cuts off the cage for such a small man. He does this by pounding the right hook to the body every time his opponent tries to circle past him.

The Left Hook

Lineker’s right hand may be the staple of his game, but his money punch is the left hook. By punishing his opponent for circling to his right, Lineker encourages them to move towards his left. This is where the real damage is done in Lineker’s fights. After receiving a torrent of right hands to the body, Lineker’s opponents become sensitized. Their hands begin to drop every time he steps in, and then he drops the left hook on them as they try to circle out.


Odds and Ends

Lineker has a few more tricks that we see aside from his herding game. He has a viscous overhand right, which has really come into its own at 135 pounds against taller opposition. Overhands have always been most effective when used by shorter fighters, and Lineker has been badly hurting guys like Rob Font and Michael MacDonald with this punch in his most recent fights.

His jab has always been something of a set up more than an actual punch. Much like Tyron Woodley, Lineker will pump a jab to get his opponent reacting. He will then look to duck any incoming shots and close the distance. This was another favorite of Duran, and another great way to compensate for a reach disadvantage. By drawing the jab with your own then ducking the return you can close the distance without worrying about getting hit.

Physically Gifted, Defensively Flawed

While he shares many offensive and physical traits with Duran, Lineker’s defense is pretty poor. He will invite exchanges then swing with his hands by his sides and his chin in the air. This is how he generates such power, but also leaves him extremely vulnerable to counters. Louis Gaudinot did a great job in their fight of simply covering up as Lineker unloaded, then dropping a counter as he recovered his guard.

Much like George Foreman, Lineker is a thunderous power puncher, but not a terribly accurate one. He flurries up and down his opponent well, but against Gaudinot he had a hard time hurting a man who simply stood in the pocket and covered up.

Submission Over Position

On the mat, Lineker has three moves. When getting taken down, he will look to lock in a guillotine. Once his opponent passes his guard he will look for a kimura. Once they stand over him he will roll for a heel hook. While his guillotine is nasty, I have never seen his other submissions even come close to working.

Both of Lineker’s losses in the UFC came through his deficiencies on the ground. Mostly this was because he rarely abandons a submission attempt until his opponent escapes and is back on top of him. While it is great to see him create scrambles by initiating submissions, it would be even better to see him focus on achieving the stand up. Rather than hunting for the inverted heel hook from the 50/50, he should be looking to kick out and get back to his feet.

Lineker has never been tremendously technical on the feet, but he doesn’t need to be. As a short guy with a great chin and huge power, he is maximizing his bodies capabilities by trying to draw guys into a brawl. He knows how to cut the cage and how to get guys to drop their hands, and if he can do that to his opponent, no matter who they are, he has the power to shut them off.

John Dodson: Speed Kills

John Dodson is a man who has been put in an unusual position. On the one hand, he is one of three best flyweights on the planet. On the other, he has lost two fights to the champion, Demetrius Johnson, so a third title shot is unlikely. So instead of choosing to be the big fish in the smaller pond, Dodson has returned to 135 pounds. While he has only had one fight since returning, Dodson’s style has always been better suited to fighting bigger guys.

As one of the most explosive athletes you will find in the UFC today, Dodson’s speed has always been his best weapon. At 125 pounds, he was one of the fastest men in the division. Against bantamweights, it is even more pronounced. He closes the distance very well, but will always glide to his right as he does it to ling his left hand up with the gap in his opponents guard.

Many people talk about the flying knees and his acrobatic celebrations and call him a ‘wild’ fighter. However Dodson as a striker has always been a minimalist. Some would even say conservative. He has a surprisingly slow output rate, and his offence comes almost entirely off his left side. His left round kick and knee are a staple of his outfighting game, and he will often catch people ducking on to them, much like Jose Aldo.

The Southpaw Left Hook

It is a personal pet peeve of mine when I hear people talk about how great McGregor’s ‘left hook’ is. A hook is a punch which travels on an arc to its target (a ‘hook’ shaped arc, if you will). The punch McGregor has been using to crumble featherweights is a left straight. It comes straight down the center line and makes full use of McGregor’s 74″ reach.

This brings me to John Dodson’s money punch. It is very rare to see a true left hook coming from a southpaw. This is because the left hand is the rear hand. It is much better to throw the left hand as a straight or overhand (a downward diagonal arc) than the hook because the hook takes so much longer to arrive. Also because it is a hook, the range is limited, even more so because it is a rear hand.

Dodson is one of the few men out there quick enough to utilize a rear handed hook effectively. The advantages of this is that it comes on an unconventional angle and can catch people unawares. He will back step to get his man coming forward, then plant his feet and catch his man running into him, negating the range disadvantage.


It’s All In The Feet

Dodson is not the savviest of defensive fighters. In fact his guard has proven pretty porous in his fights with Mighty Mouse and Tim Elliot. Dodson’s defense is done with his feet. Firstly he fights as an outfighter, a style normally reserved for longer men. He looks to maintain range and avoid strikes by giving ground. He will look to engage on his terms, either by closing the distance quickly with a 1-1-2, or by getting his opponent to chase and looking to loop his straight armed left hook around their guard as they rush in. Both of these tactics rely on the speed of his feet to ferry him in or out of range.

On the rare occasions when Dodson stands in range with his opponent, he will often either kick or look for a jab-lead-hook combination. As an infighter, Dodson is not actually that effective. What he is effective at is catching his men on the outside, then swarming with quick, accurate shots while they are wobbled.

Everything Dodson does effectively is predicated on two things: being the faster man, and having the space to move around. While he has the speed, even at 32 years old, he has shown a tendency to get stuck on the cage against ring cutters like Mighty Mouse, or even just aggressive fighters like Elliot, who wasn’t even looking to put Dodson on the fence. This is because he will often retreat on a straight line to avoid attacks.

Final Thoughts:

This is an interesting fight on so many levels. On one hand, Lineker has shown himself to be a very effective ring cutter. On the other, Dodson’s straight line retreats will take him away from the right hook to the body and the left hook to the head. If Dodson gets trapped against the fence, his shoddy guard will put him in danger against a flurry puncher like Lineker. If the fight stays in the open, Dodson’s speed can exacerbate Lineker’s technical flaws.

There are so many questions going in to this fight. How it plays out will tell us a lot about both guys. If Lineker can cut the cage on someone as fast as Dodson, it would be very interesting to see him against someone like Dominick Cruz, who’s elusive head movement would do little to deter Lineker’s body punches. If Dodson can escape Lineker and even finish him, his patient counter striking and footwork could force Cruz to go on the offensive, where he is prone to taking shots on the way in (as he did in the second fight with Uriah Faber).

This fight could well decide who has the best chance of dethroning the Bantamweight great. Even more so, it promises to be a damn good fight. In a month full of Cyborg a squash matches in imaginary weight classes and 46 year old title shots, a fun, meaningful fight is exactly what we need to remind us of what this sport is really about.

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Beginning martial arts at a young age, Dave has been studying in either Taekwon-do, Kickboxing or Boxing since before he was a teen. Formerly a writer for lasttimeout.com, he has been obsessed with MMA since the late 2000's, and has been using his fight breakdowns as a way of improving his analytical ability and writing prowess with the goal of providing information to others while furthering his own understanding of the wonderful world of Mixed Martial Arts.

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