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UFC 224: Dominick Cruz’s take on LI’s Brian Kelleher vs. John Lineker

Brian Kelleher gets ready to enter the ring

Brian Kelleher gets ready to enter the ring at NYCB Live's Nassau Coliseum for UFC Long Island on July 22, 2017. Credit: Jeffrey Basinger

Selden’s Brian Kelleher has been in the UFC for less than a year. He’s set for his fifth fight this Saturday in Brazil at UFC 224 on pay-per-view against John Lineker, the No. 6 ranked fighter in the UFC’s bantamweight division.

To some, that may seem like a fast rise for the unranked fighter. To Dominick Cruz, it’s not a surprise.

“You win, you move up the ladder,” said Cruz, who will work the desk for Fox’s weekend coverage of UFC 224. “It’s not really quick. It’s [four] fights. [Four] fights is not quick. That’s about a year’s time.

“It might seem quick to a fan, but to a fighter, it’s a lifetime.”

Both Kelleher and Lineker weighed in at 136 pounds on Friday morning for Saturday night’s bout on pay-per-view. The card is headlined by Amanda Nunes defending her bantamweight title against Raquel Pennington.

Kelleher (19-8, 3-1 UFC) last fought in February, beating former champion Renan Barao by unanimous decision. Barao may not be that dominant force he was several years ago — he’s lost five of his last seven since 2014 after a 32-fight unbeaten streak — but his name still carries cachet for fighters and fans.

“No matter what, you know if you’re beating Barao, you know you’re doing something right,” Cruz said. “The way he beat Barao tested his gut like that. He’s just very confident right now, and that confidence and the things he believes in himself now from those fights are what make him what he is.”

Lineker (30-8, 11-3) is coming off a decision win last October of Marlon Vera, who submitted Kelleher last July at UFC Long Island.

Lineker is known for his punching power. He has 13 wins by knockout and 12 by decision. He has just two knockouts in his last eight fights over the past four years.

The distribution of wins for Lineker (another four by submission) is a positive for him, the way Cruz, a former bantamweight champion sees it.

“You have a tougher time fighting a guy with non-stop decisions than you do with guys who get knockouts,” Cruz said. “A lot of times, knockouts become their saving grace. It’s a little scarier, but if they don’t get the knockout, what’s their plan B? Now, if you look at a guy with a lot of decisions, they always have plan A, B and C, and hopefully they got the knockout in the middle of that but they’re not relying on it.

“That he’s split down the middle, I’d say that’s a strength in his favor, if you ask me.”

Cruz has flourished as one of the top analysts in mixed martial arts. He’ll be on Friday’s weigh-in show on FS1 at 7 p.m. Eastern, Saturday’s prefight and prelims coverage on FX and the postfight show at 1 a.m. Sunday on FS1.

So what does Cruz see in the stylistic matchup of Kelleher vs. Lineker?

“Lineker keeps a good pace. He’s not super duper active, but it’s because he does throw mostly power. So that makes it fun to watch because there’s a good chance that one of those punches connect is a knockout,” Cruz said. “But if they don’t, Kelleher has a good style to fill in the gaps. Lineker kind of has a plodding style. He waits, he counters really well. And if he’s not in the counter striking mode, then he comes forward pretty hard when he does decide to explode on combinations. Kelleher has a more of a non-stop pace. It’s more be in your face, stay in your face, don’t let off, eat what you got, keep the exact same pace every single round, round by round and see if you can handle it.”

New York Sports