John “Hands of Stone” Lineker has a score to settle with a legendary compatriot, and a victory in their heated grudge match would earn him World Title gold.
Since making his first appearance on the global stage, Lineker has been an unstoppable force.
The 31-year-old dominated Muin “Tajik” Gafurov in his promotional debut, finished former bantamweight king Kevin “The Silencer” Belingon via second-round TKO, and then knocked out Troy “Pretty Boy” Worthen within five minutes.
Those victories established Lineker as the #1 bantamweight contender, and he called for a World Title shot on social media. The post caught the ire of Fernandes, and the two athletes have since exchanged fiery words – both privately and publicly.
Before their main event showdown at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, “Hands of Stone” explains how this feud began, breaks down the long-awaited clash, shares thoughts on the 41-year-old Fernandes, and more.
ONE Championship: Let’s talk about this beef between you and Bibiano Fernandes. How did this all start, and what made his rivalry so heated?
John Lineker: In fact, it was Bibiano who created this rivalry because there was no rivalry between us. When I posted on my Instagram that I wanted to fight for the title, it wasn’t [necessarily] Bibiano himself. I wanted to fight against the champion because my goal was to fight for the belt.
I wrote that I wanted the opportunity to fight for the title, that it was past time, that I was ready, and that it was my moment. And then he got offended and replied, saying that I wasn’t a professional.
ONE: Bibiano has been very vocal about this, even saying that he would fight you on the street. Does that bother you?
JL: Bibiano saying he would fight me even on the street is a delinquent attitude. MMA has evolved a lot. In the old days, there was a lot of this thing, to solve [issues] on the street or invade other people’s gyms to solve it based on strength. But not today.
Today, MMA is a professional sport. I’m not a delinquent. I get in the ring to fight for my family, for myself, and for the sport.
Before, fighters were called outcasts because of attitudes like this. And Bibiano saying he would fight me on the street doesn’t help at all. As I said before, I’m not a delinquent, I’m a professional, and I fight in the ring.
ONE: Even though you two have some legitimate heat, he’s been a big name in the MMA and BJJ worlds for a long time now. Do you feel he owned the door for other Brazilian fighters?
JL: I always respected Bibiano as a fighter. He is a great Jiu-Jitsu Champion. I met Bibiano already [during his time as a] ONE World Champion, and he certainly opened doors for other Brazilians at ONE. I respect his history in jiu-jitsu and MMA, and I’ve always respected him as the ONE World Champion.
ONE: Let’s talk a little bit about his skills. As mentioned, he’s an accomplished BJJ practitioner and a world-class black belt. How do you feel about his grappling, and are you confident that you can defend his takedowns attempts?
JL: He’s a black belt, a Jiu-Jitsu World Champion, and has very good grappling, but I’m very confident. I’m training really hard to nullify all his takedown attempts and all his attempts to take my back.
This is my moment, and I believe he’s never fought a guy like me. I’m an aggressive guy who never backs down, who walks forward all the time, and has a very heavy hand.
My opponents know this very well, so my confidence is in what I can do and what I’ve done in my past fights. And what I can say is that I’m very prepared to nullify any submission attempt by Bibiano.
ONE: Bibiano also said he may even knock you out. Do you feel threatened by his striking and power?
JL: Bibiano is an athlete who goes for striking too, but I don’t see his striking as a strength. I don’t feel threatened by his striking. Him saying he’s going to knock me out is one thing – getting it is another.
I think 70 percent of the opponents I faced also said they were going to knock me out. Some even said that I would see the real “stone hands.” But when you get in the ring, the story is different, the strategy changes, and when they feel my hand, they realize they will have to put me down.
I don’t feel threatened in any kind of fight because I prepare myself and work really hard to be there. And I’m three times more prepared than anyone for this moment.
ONE: Do you believe Bibiano is past his prime?
JL: As Bibiano has been out of action for some time, I believe his heyday is over. Today, I don’t see him at his peak, mainly because of the time he was away.
ONE: So, how do you anticipate this fight going?
JL: I’m training to knock him out. As in all my fights, I go to knock out my opponents. I don’t like to leave the decision to the judges. Sometimes, it happens, but I always try to finish the fight before the full fight time.
I believe he’ll strike with me at the beginning, and for sure, will try to use his grappling and jiu-jitsu game. But I’m training a lot, and I know I’ll be able to nullify his game and get the knockout.