John Lineker determined to entertain in ONE Championship debut

John Lineker, a native of Brazil and a current resident of Florida, never imagined he’d fight in Indonesia. Yet on October 25, he’ll take to the cage in Jakarta to ply his trade against Tajikistan’s Muin Gafurov.

Lineker’s trip to the bustling metropolis of Jakarta is the result of his recent move from the UFC to ONE Championship.

His departure from the UFC came as a surprise to many fans, but he says he holds no ill will toward the promotion. He is, however, to move on to this new chapter of his career with ONE Championship, where he’ll be competing at 145 pounds against a new and unfamiliar roster of killers.

“We had a few promotions interested, but ONE Championship was the right way to go economically,” Lineker told BJPENN.com ahead of his ONE Championship debut. “Also their weight system, it really seemed like a better thing. Also, if you look at the type of fighters they have over there in my weight division, they’re strikers, which I really enjoy.

In Gafurov, Lineker will meet a dangerous striker who’s also flaunted a knack for finishing on the ground. The Tajik fighter has scored stoppages in a great many of his 16 victories, and has only lost to established ONE Championship stars in Reece McLaren and Kevin Belingon.

Unsurprisingly, Lineker is impressed with what he’s seen from his opponent so far.

“He’s a great fighter,” he said of Gafurov. “He’s very versatile. When he doesn’t do good in the striking department he tries to take the fight down.”

Muin Gafurov

While Lineker respects Gafurov’s striking, he expects his foe to attempt to ground the fight early.

“He will not be comfortable in the striking department with me, and he’ll probably try to take me down, but I’m ready for it,” he said.

“[Striking] is what I like to do,” he added. “I’m coming ready. I’m really looking forward to it and I want to put on a show for all of my fans to watch.”

John Lineker is not the first UFC fighter to migrate to the ONE Championship of late. Over the last year, we’ve seen other UFC veterans such Demetrious Johnson, Eddie Alvarez, Sage Northcutt, Yoshihiro Akiyama and Yushin Okami move to the Singapore-based promotion.

Of the men listed above, only Demetrious Johnson won his first fight under the ONE Championship banner. Given the struggles these UFC veterans have endured while fighting for ONE, you might expect Lineker to approach his debut with a degree of caution, yet he claims he couldn’t be cautious of he tried. It is simply not in his nature.

“I’ve seen some of the fighters that have migrated from the UFC [to ONE], but caution is not part of my nature, not a part of my personality,” he said. “My story is going to be different.”

If Lineker is successful against Gafurov in Jakarta, he’ll be well positioned for a shot at the ONE Championship bantamweight title, which will next be on the line when Bibiano Fernandes and Kevin Belingon rematch in Tokyo, Japan this October. The UFC veteran is reluctant to look too far past Gafurov, but is of course eager for the chance to fight for gold in ONE.

“I want to take things step by step, of course,” he said of a potential ONE bantamweight title shot. “If that opportunity arises, I’m going to be very happy with it, but I’m focused on taking things step-by-step, fight-by-fight.”

Lineker’s receiving a ONE Championship title shot any time soon, of course, would seem to hinge on his looming showdown with Gafurov. The Brazilian is reluctant to make a prediction, but is happy to make a promise instead: he’ll be looking for the knockout, always.

“The only prediction I can guarantee is I’m going to look for a knockout as I always do.”

How do you think John Lineker will perform in ONE Championship?

This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 9/17/2019. 

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Agilan Thani ready to topple another veteran in Yushin Okami

Agilan Thani entered the year 2019 on shaky ground. The Malaysian welterweight had been stopped in his last two fights of 2018, first succumbing to Zebaztian Kadestam’s strikes, then, then tapping to a Kiamrian Abbasov rear-naked choke.

Despite this rough patch, Thani’s first contest of the year was a big one. In June, he was tasked with welcoming Japanese MMA legend Yoshihiro Akiyama to the ONE Championship cage.

The Malaysian admits he was a little surprised when this bout was first offered.

“When I first got the news, I was starstruck,” he told BJPenn.com of his initial reaction to this matchup.

When it came time to fight, however, Thani was able to push these feelings aside and focus on the task at hand — though he says his admiration for Akiyama never dwindled.

“When I was fighting him, I just had respect for him,” he said. “I had no stuttering moments. I was never frozen. I knew it was my win to grab that night.”

In the end, Agilan Thani was able to make the most of his mammoth opportunity, as he defeated Akiyama by unanimous decision. Unsurprisingly, the Malaysian talent is very happy to have this victory on his resume.

“I beat Akiyama,” he says proudly. “I feel good about my skills. I can go forward with more confidence.”

For Thani, of course, the work is far from over. In fact, he’ll soon have the opportunity to battle another Japanese veteran not unlike Akiyama in Yushin Okami. Thani will meet Okami, who previously challenged for the UFC middleweight title, on the first portion of the ONE: Century double-header, scheduled for October 13 in Tokyo.

Just as he was when ONE Championship offered him a fight with Akiyama, Thani says he was thrilled to be offered this Okami matchup. The setting of the bout excites him greatly too.

“I’m very grateful, as usual,” he said. “They offered me one of the biggest cards of the year, which is the 100th event, in Japan.

“I’m very excited — sometimes I can’t even explain it. I’ve never been to Japan. I’ve always wanted to go there, and this is my opportunity to go and perform in front of the crowd in Japan. It’s always an honor to fight in Japan, because it’s where PRIDE was, where the crowd was so big, and everybody was a big star there.”

While Agilan Thani is very excited for this bout with Yushin Okami, he is not anticipating an easy night of work. In fact, he believes Okami will be even more difficult to defeat than Akiyama.

“Yushin is going to be even tougher than Akiyama,” he said. “Yushin has been in the fight game longer, has more fights and more experience than Akiyama. I have to be more careful and I have to be smarter with my fight this time.”

In Okami, Thani will meet a well-rounded fighter with a particularly dangerous grappling arsenal. The Malaysian is wary of his foe’s strengths, but is confident his preparation will carry him to victory.

“I’m not sure how good he is, but I’m preparing for the worst, and the best,” he said. “I just need to go there and test myself. I know he’s not an easy guy to beat, that’s for sure.

“He’s very smart with what he does, especially on the ground,” he added. “But you can’t underestimate your own skills either, because he may look strong, but you never know how strong until you fight the guy.”

In addition to Okami’s technical ability, Thani will have to be cautious of his foe’s experience. The Japanese veteran has shared the canvas with many world-class foes, such as Anderson Silva, Mark Munoz, Chael Sonnen, Alan Belcher, Nate Marquardt, Jon Fitch, Evan Tanner, David Branch, Ronald “Jacare” Souza, Ovince Saint Preux, and most recently, Kiamrian Abbasov and James Nakashima under the ONE Championship banner.

Thani respects his foe’s accomplishments, but is reluctant to dwell on them.

“I’m going in with one goal, which is to do my best against him,” he said. “I can’t think about ‘he’s fought this guy, and this guy’ and lower my standards down. I need to keep my confidence high. I can’t dwell on what he’s done in the past. That’s just not going to work right for me.”

Needless to say, Agilan Thani is dialled in on the task at hand. He’s confident he can find a way to beat Yushin Okami in Tokyo, and prove his skill not only to all the fans watching, but also to himself.

“It means everything to me,” he said. “I used to fight for so many reasons, but now I only fight for one reason: to prove to myself that I am capable of fighting at the highest level. I want to constantly be there.

“I didn’t even know I would fight people like [Akiyama and Okami],” he said. “I’m from a small town, I never thought I’d be fighting on the big scene, but now I’m starting to respect myself more.”

This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 9/16/2019.

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Danny Kingad has a chance to put Philippine mixed martial arts on the map at ONE: CENTURY

Danny Kingad will be dealing with a lot of pressure when he goes head-to-head with Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson in the ONE Flyweight World Grand Prix Final at ONE: CENTURY PART I this coming 13 October in Tokyo, Japan. 

The 23-year old Filipino flyweight prodigy out of the famed Team Lakay Gym in La Trinidad, Benguet Province, Philippines will have the hopes of an entire nation pinned on him as he looks to take down a pound-for-pound great in the United States’ Johnson with a shot at glory on the line. 

Apart from a chance to become the ONE Flyweight World Grand Prix Champion and becoming next in line to challenge for the ONE Flyweight World Championship, Kingad is also competing to put the Philippines on the map in terms of mixed martial arts on the global stage.

“Of course, for us, it’s definitely a blessing that we were given the chance and the opportunity, that Danny was given the chance and the opportunity to face Mighty Mouse,” said Team Lakay head coach Mark Sangiao.

“It’s simply an indication that athletes like Danny from the Philippines can go head-to-head with the best fighters in the world, and that will be even more evident if Danny can manage to be victorious.”

As if the stakes weren’t already high enough, the Kingad-Johnson contest will serve as the main event of ONE: CENTURY’s morning card in Tokyo, which will air live on primetime in the United States via TNT. 

A victory for Kingad over a legendary competitor like Johnson will not only put him on the top of the flyweight landscape in ONE, but it will also give him exposure like never before. 

Sangiao knows exactly what is at stake for Kingad in Tokyo, and he knows that a win will be a massive boost not just for Kingad or for Team Lakay, but also for the landscape of Philippine mixed martial arts in general. 

“We’re definitely blessed to be in this position, that Danny gets to face someone like Demetrious Johnson,” Sangiao stated. 

“We all know who Mighty Mouse is. For a long time, he has been one of the best in the world in the flyweight division in terms of MMA, and now one of our own in Danny Kingad gets to face him, and Danny will be proudly representing the whole of the Philippines. 

“That only means that on a global stage, worldwide, we Filipinos can be competitive, and not just in boxing, but also in MMA,” Sangiao added. 

The Kingad-Johnson clash in the Flyweight World Grand Prix finale is just one of the must-see bouts on the ONE: CENTURY morning card that will be headlined by a highly-anticipated rematch between ONE Women’s Atomweight World Champion Angela “Unstoppable” Lee and ONE Women’s Strawweight World Champion “The Panda” Xiong Jing Nan

Also on the card, the ONE Lightweight World Grand Prix Championship will also be up for grabs as multiple-time lightweight world champion Eddie “The Underground King” Alvarez of the United States meets Turkish knockout artist Saygid “Dagi” Guseyn Arslanaliev in the finale. 

Do you think Danny Kingad can upset “Mighty Mouse” in Tokyo?

This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 9/13/2019.

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