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The UFC returns to Portland this weekend with a pivotal main event in the bantamweight division as John Lineker faces John Dodson, while rising lightweight star Will Brooks looks for his second win in the Octagon when he takes on Brazilian Alex Oliveira.
Lineker has been on an absolute tear since moving to 135 pounds, including his most recent knockout over former title contender Michael McDonald, but if there's a fighter in this division who can match him strike for strike, it's heavy-handed Ultimate Fighter winner John Dodson.
Dodson make quite an impression in his return to bantamweight earlier this year, as he made short work of Manny Gamburyan, and with a prior win over former champion TJ Dillashaw, a victory on Saturday night will get him a spot high in the rankings and that much closer to a shot at a championship.
In today's fantasy preview, we're going to examine those fights and several more to see who has the advantage and if there's an upset brewing at UFC Fight Night: Lineker vs. Dodson.
These are the fights that are just too close to call, but a few minor differences between favorite and underdog could lead one fighter to victory and the other to defeat.
John Dodson (-120 favorite) vs. John Lineker (+100 underdog)
The main event features two fighters who made waves at 125 pounds before moving up to terrorize the bantamweight division in recent months. Lineker has looked incredible through his first few fights in the weight class, and his knockouts have been even more electrifying after the switch to 135 pounds. As for Dodson, he's one of the smaller bantamweights in stature, but not when it comes to his ability to land a knockout punch, because he's got speed and a ton of power in both of his hands.
Lineker is a very fast starter out of the gate, and he's averaging nearly six strikes landed per minute with just over 41 percent accuracy. Lineker will rarely look for the takedown and going to the mat is probably not a great idea against someone like Dodson, who has shown incredible wrestling defense throughout his career, as well as an innate ability to get up from the ground no matter how the fight lands there.
While Lineker is a fast striker who puts together blistering combinations, there's no denying that Dodson is likely the quickest fighter in the world at 135 pounds right now. Dodson moves with speed and hits with precision, and he's the kind of fighter who only needs to land one glancing blow before he follows up with five or six more punches in a row to get the finish. Dodson has also been part of a couple UFC title fights where he's gone five rounds, and while neither bout went his way, he knows what it's like to go hard for 25 straight minutes, and that will definitely be an advantage in this main event matchup.
Lineker has shown much better conditioning in this division than he did at 125 pounds, but the longer this fight goes, the more it will likely favor Dodson. Dodson did slow down in both of his previous fights with Demetrious Johnson, but the flyweight champion is known for wearing his opponents out with tremendous cardio, so there's no shame in that. Still, Dodson doesn't have to suffer through a big weight cut now like he did in previous fights at flyweight, so chances are he'll try to drag Lineker into deep waters in the third or fourth round to see if the Brazilian can keep up with him.
There's little doubt that both fighters could end this one early, but given Dodson's speed and movement, he'll likely frustrate Lineker early and make the Brazilian chase him around for the first round or two. Once he notices Lineker slowing down just slightly, Dodson will go on the attack and that's where he can take over. Dodson knows not to stand in front of Lineker and eat punches, and as long as he can avoid that early flurry, look for him to take over as the fight moves into the championship rounds.
Prediction: John Dodson by TKO, Round 4
Will Brooks (-270 favorite) vs. Alex Oliveira (+210 underdog)
Will Brooks debuted in the UFC earlier this year and earned a hard fought decision over Ross Pearson, but now the highly touted lightweight wants to make an even bigger impact in his second appearance in the Octagon. Standing in his way is Alex Oliveira, who returns to 155 pounds after a run in the welterweight division. Oliveira is as tough as they come, with a lightning quick striking game and a very slick ground arsenal as well.
Brooks is a very well rounded fighter with good power on his feet and a dominant clinch game, but his best weapon is a wrestling attack that can absolutely grind an opponent into the mat. Now Brooks did show off his groundwork against Pearson, but the Brit can be a notoriously tough fighter to take down, so the American Top Team welterweight had to show off a few other skills as he earned his first victory in the UFC. That kind of diversity will likely be needed in this fight as well because Oliveira is a very crafty fighter on the ground, even if he's the one stuck on the bottom.
Oliveira actually has shown solid takedown defense, but his Brazilian jiu-jitsu game is very good, so he has no problem working from the ground if that's where Brooks wants to take him. On the feet, Oliveira is a fast, devastating striker with good accuracy. The problem Oliveira will likely have in this fight is that his defense is sometimes quite lacking. Oliveira is a go big or go home kind of fighter and there's not much in between with him. He'll go for the kill, but that also leaves him open for the counter, and that's where Brooks has to take advantage.
If Brooks can stay patient and wait for Oliveira to get too aggressive, he can plant him on the mat with a big takedown or simply overwhelm him in the clinch. Brooks would certainly like to get a finish in his second UFC fight, but Oliveira is tough enough to survive for all three rounds. That being said, Brooks has plenty in his gas tank and he will wear on Oliveira round after round until earning a clear cut, unanimous decision victory.
Prediction: Will Brooks by unanimous decision
These are the fights that appear to be a little more one-sided, but remember that this is MMA, where anything can - and usually does - happen.
Louis Smolka vs. Brandon Moreno
Louis Smolka was expected to face Sergio Pettis on the upcoming card in Portland, but instead he'll now take on Ultimate Fighter season 24 competitor Brandon Moreno, who stepped up to take the fight on short notice. Now make no mistake, Moreno is a very scrappy fighter who will come to battle Smolka no matter how much of an underdog he will be walking into the Octagon.
Moreno experienced that feeling already when he was ranked No. 16 on The Ultimate Fighter 24 and still ended up in a war with top seed Alexandre Pantoja in the opening fight of the season. Moreno ultimately lost the fight, but he showed a ton of promise with that performance. To have a shot in this matchup, Moreno will need to do the same and a whole lot more because he's facing one of the best flyweights in the world in Smolka.
WATCH: Louis Smolka featured in Submission of the Week
Smolka has not only proven to be a force at 125 pounds, but he's gotten even better in his recent fights. Smolka is a volume striker on the feet, landing nearly five significant strikes per minute, and then he combines that with a nasty ground game. Smolka averages over two takedowns per 15 minutes and then adds another three submission attempts once the fight hits the ground. Smolka is an offensive juggernaut and that probably doesn’t bode well for Moreno, who is similarly aggressive, and that will probably land the Tijuana native in a bad spot sooner rather than later.
Look for a fast and furious start to this one, but once Smolka finds an opening he'll go for the kill by either landing the knockout shot or more likely taking this fight to the ground, where he'll wrap up another submission win.
Prediction: Louis Smolka by submission, Round 2
Walt Harris vs. Shamil Abdurakhimov
When it comes to heavyweight fights, there's never a sure thing, but Walt Harris has all the skills to put Shamil Abdurakhimov to sleep when they clash on Saturday night.
Harris is one of the most athletic fighters in the heavyweight division and, much like fellow heavy hitter Travis Browne, he actually played basketball before turning to fighting. Harris packs a serious punch and he also has a devastating kicking game to compliment his overall skill set. Harris has also grown a lot as a fighter in the last few years after leaving the UFC before returning in 2016. Training out of American Top Team, Harris has the coaches and the training partners that could eventually turn him into a top 15 fighter.
Abdurakhimov has ways to win, especially if he gets Harris on the mat and applies his submission game. Abdurakhimov is a world-class grappler, and the last place Harris wants to find himself is on the ground in the early part of this fight with the Russian on top of him looking for strikes or going for submissions. That said, Harris has the speed and power to not only stuff the takedown but then severely punish Abdurakhimov every time he attempts to get this fight to the ground. Eventually, Harris should find an opening to put this one away and he might get the job done before the first round is over.
Prediction: Walt Harris by TKO, Round 1
MORE FROM FIGHT NIGHT PORTLAND: Free Fights - Lineker vs Rivera | Dodson vs Gamburyan | McCrory on long road back
Jonathan Wilson vs. Ion Cutelaba
This is another tough matchup in which to say either fighter is certain to win, but Jonathan Wilson has the kind of power to turn this one into a highlight reel knockout victory.
Cutelaba is a solid fighter out of Europe, but he's faced a mixed bag of opposition during his career, and when he finally made it to the UFC, he fell to top prospect Misha Cirkunov in his debut. Cutelaba showed good toughness in that fight and he's certainly got enough skills to give Wilson problems if the American gets sloppy, but that's a big gamble in this fight.
Wilson is incredibly fast and he lands over six significant strikes per minute with a ridiculous 66 percent accuracy rate. Now his defense has been lacking through two fights in the UFC, but as long as Wilson doesn't just walk into a punch from Cutelaba, he should be able to overwhelm his opponent from the moment the referee says go until the fight is finally stopped. Wilson is a finishing machine and he should pick up another knockout on Saturday night.
Prediction: Jonathan Wilson by KO, Round 1
On paper, Hacran Dias is certainly the favorite and the easier pick in this matchup, given a suffocating style where he pressures his opponents against the cage and proceeds to grind them into dust over the course of three rounds. Dias is a very difficult fighter to face, especially if he's allowed to control the pace and dictate where the action takes place.
That's what Fili has to avoid or he might spend three rounds fending off takedowns or trying to fight his way off the cage. Still, Fili is an explosive, exciting striker with a very slick ground game that could give Dias problems if he's not careful. Fili should go back and watch Cub Swanson's fight with Dias, where he frustrated the Brazilian with quick movement while never allowing himself to just get locked down in the clinch.
Fili isn't Swanson, but he possesses a similar skill set with a long reach, explosive striking and good footwork. If he employs all three things, he could give Dias headaches just like Swanson did when they met back in April. It's much easier said than done, but Fili has the skills to employ a similar tactic and pull off the upset win over Dias.
Prediction: Andre Fili by unanimous decision