John Lineker has been victorious in eight of his last nine UFC appearances, and seeing the only guy to beat him be given a two-year suspension for EPO use could benefit him in the chase for a title shot.

“Hands of Stone,” who lost a decision to now-former UFC bantamweight titleholder T.J. Dillashaw back in 2016, makes his return to the eight-sided cage against Cory Sandhagen at Saturday’s UFC Fort Lauderdale event, just five weeks after Dillashaw vacated the belt due to a positive doping test.

”I think the division will finally move now after T.J. dropped the belt,” Lineker told MMA Fighting. “It won’t be stuck anymore. It was too confusing because of the (Henry) Cejudo situation and everything else, but now everyone will have the opportunity to do their thing and get up there. With him gone, I think the division will finally move.”

Lineker beat Marlon Vera, Brian Kelleher, John Dodson, Michael McDonald, Rob Font, and Francisco Rivera after moving up from flyweight in 2015, and hopes that his body of work is enough to guarantee him a shot at the belt.

The vacant 135-pound title will be on the line on June 8, when flyweight champion Henry Cejudo challenges Marlon Moraes for bantamweight gold at UFC 238. Aljamain Sterling and Pedro Munhoz are also campaigning to be next in line for whoever wins in Chicago.

”I think that a win over Cory, even though he’s not ranked, will get up me there for the title after Cejudo and Moraes,” Lineker said. “Not because of the fight itself, but for my history in the UFC.

”There are a lot of athletes up there, but I believe I’m here knocking on the door. I’ve done great fights to deserve this opportunity even though I lost to T.J. and was sidelined for a while after fracturing my jaw and others got to fight and get ranked. It’s a bit crowded right now, but I think that a good win over Cory will get me a chance to fight for the title.”

Lineker and Sandhagen were originally scheduled to meet in January, but the Brazilian was forced out of the card due to health issues. Sandhagen made quick work of short-notice replacement Mario Bautista, tapping him in the first round to improve to 9-1 as a professional with three stoppage wins in the UFC.

”He didn’t show anything we hadn’t seen and studied before,” Lineker said of Sandhagen’s UFC Brooklyn victory. “He fought a guy that stepped in on short notice and got nervous, so he dominated the fight. Nothing we hadn’t studied before.”

Sandhagen is a 27-year-old bantamweight talent who caught the attention of the MMA world after finishing prospects like Austin Arnett and veterans like Iuri Alcantara in the Octagon. At UFC Fort Lauderdale, Lineker hopes he decides to try his fists against “Hands of Stone.”

”Like all of my fights, I always hope my opponent comes to exchange hands with me. I hope he has the courage to trade with me,” Lineker said. “Regardless of what he’s going to try, I’m ready to fight. I’m ready in the wrestling department, I worked really hard at ATT, but I obviously worked on my boxing. I’m ready.”

Click on CC on player for English translations

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