ONE Championship’s latest free agent signing, John Lineker, made his debut at Dawn of Valor Friday in Jakarta, and found success against a tough Sambo expert in Muin Gafurov.
When ‘Mighty Mouse’ Demetrious Johnson jumped ship from the UFC to ONE Championship as part of a ‘trade’ for Ben Askren, more than just an all-time great was lost for UFC fans. Yes, they’d now have to wake up at ungodly hours to watch Johnson compete. But they also lost the chance to eventually see Johnson square off with John Lineker, a fight many MMA fans had longed for.
When Lineker joined ONE Championship earlier this year, hopes that fans would one day see the fight they’d been longing for were renewed. Lineker’s struggles to make the flyweight limit in the UFC eventually saw him exiled to bantamweight, but with ONE’s modified weight-cutting rules, the groundwork was laid for the fight to happen some day. First up, of course, Lineker needed to get off on the right foot in ONE. Which meant that his debut at Dawn of Valor in Jakarta, Indonesia was crucial.
Lineker’s debut came against Muin Gafurov, a combat sambo champion who entered the night on a five-fight win streak. Impressively, across 16 pro wins, Gafurov boasted a 100% finishing rate. It also came in ONE’s bantamweight division, with Lineker weighing in at 65.8kg (just north of 145lbs), as allowed under ONE’s weight cutting rules.
Many a UFC athlete had struggled in their ONE Championship debut, but John Lineker looked to buck that trend Friday. Lineker immediately took Gafurov’s legs out from under him with a kick, but Muin was showing some flash with spinning attacks. Lineker was going to need to be wary. He’d land an overhand right, but Gafurov’s kicks were keeping Lineker at bay. Muin would find some success at the mid-way mark of the round, landing a combination which set off a short brawl. Gafurov would later shoot for a takedown, but Lineker sprawled, then went on the attack, backing his opponent up against the fence. Lineker then turned it on, connecting several times, with Gafurov either retreating or covering up in response to each engagement. With each new attack, Gafurov seemed less capable of returning fire.
Gafurov needed to reset after the opening frame, and he changed things up to start the second. He shot for a double, but Lineker answered with a guillotine choke. It was tight, but Gafurov pulled free, and dropped an elbow in response. He could not, however, keep Lineker down, and the former UFC star wall-walked up. Gafurov would take him straight back down, however, moving to half guard. As Lineker was working his way up, Gafurov tried for his own guillotine choke, only to be pretty much thrown off by Lineker.
Power advantage, Lineker. Gafurov, meanwhile, had at least found something of an edge in the takedown department. But his next takeown attempt came up short, with Lineker quickly moving out of the way. A spinning high kick by Gafurov came up just short, a second would be blocked. Gafurov finished the round pressing for a takedown he couldn’t complete before the bell.
The question heading into the third would be whether Lineker’s gas tank would be a factor. Gafurov looked to be the quicker fighter, but Lineker remained dangerous. He also retained his ability to stuff Gafurov’s takedown attempts. That would lead to a a bit of stand-up until the Gafurov finally did land a takedown around the two minute mark. However with Lineker making it back to his feet, Gafurov landed low with a knee. A brief pause for injury time followed but Lineker opted not to take the full allotment. The rest of the bout would play out on the feet, Gafurov unable to secure another takedown.
— ONE Championship (@ONEChampionship) October 25, 2019
Ultimately, the fight would end in a unanimous decision win for the debuting Lineker. Curiously, he looked surprised when the result was read. Had the fight come under the 10-point must, round by round scoring system employed by the UFC and other western promotions, Gafurov might have had a chance to steal. But fights in ONE Championship are scored as a whole, and Lineker’s strong first five minutes won him the fight.
A meeting with ‘Mighty Mouse’ is a ways off still, as Johnson is expected to be the next contender for flyweight champion Adriano Moraes, likely some time next year. And the weight issue will need to be addressed. ‘Hands of Stone,’ however, has at least made his presence felt in ONE, and could be a big factor moving forward at bantamweight, or in the dream fight with Johnson.
Official Result: John Lineker def. Muin Gafurov by unanimous decision