A few weekends ago at UFC Fight Night 107 in London, we saw a new participant throw her hat into the ring as a potential bantamweight contender when Lina Lansberg defeated Lucie Pudilova in rematch of their 2015 bout in Umea, Sweden. Today we take a look at Lansberg’s brief history in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, her recent win, and what her victory means for her and the bantamweight division.
For most fans, our introduction to Lansberg came on September 24, 2016, when she headlined UFC Fight Night 95 against Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino. The UFC was looking for viable opponents to meet Justino in a catchweight bout, and Lansberg, a career bantamweight, leapt at the opportunity; much like the majority of mixed martial artists, she wanted to fight in the UFC. And instead of waiting for the right opportunity, matchup, or divisional opening, Lina Lansberg jumped at the chance to stand across the cage from the most fearsome and destructive fighter in women’s MMA.
Lansberg wasn’t terribly experienced as a mixed martial artist, having only fought seven times with her sole loss to former Cage Warriors champion and current Invicta fighter Pannie Kianzad. Outside of that name, however, there weren’t many others who would be considered legitimate prospects or even established mixed martial artists. But what made Lansberg a seemingly competent opponent for Cyborg was her extensive and successful record as a Muay Thai fighter — she had a record of 37-11 with numerous titles, including three Swedish Muay Thai championships and gold medals at the IMFA European and World Championships.
Cyborg had established a reputation as a fearsome, dynamic, dominant, and powerful striker in the world of MMA, and with a roster full of grapplers and wrestlers, the prospect of giving her an established and seasoned striker to square off against was an attractive one for the UFC, who could promote the fight based on the idea that Justino was in for a long night and a possible loss if she chose to engage Lansberg on the feet. This was especially easy to do given the one-sided decision loss in a Muay Thai bout against Jorina Baars. Although the fight had been two years before, it had been the first time she faced a striker since her 2009 win over kickboxer turned MMA fighter Gina Carano. The storyline was an easy one for the UFC to create: Cyborg had trouble against legitimate strikers, and here was one who had all the titles, rankings, and skills to do the same to her; that was what the stats told us.
However, there’s a reason why they fight the fights. The actual fight was a vintage and systematic destruction by Cyborg, as she quickly closed the gap, taking away any opportunity for Lansberg to make it a match of skill, timing, and strategy. She bulled her way in behind big offense, tied up Lansberg in the clinch (both fighters’ area of specialty), and mauled her, controlling position and pace as she brutally beat Lansberg into submission. It was a loss, and not a particularly competitive one, but there were three good things to come out of it: the first was Lansberg was in the UFC and would be allowed to drop to bantamweight. Secondly, she had shown a great deal of toughness and heart by being able to absorb a hellacious beating on the way to her loss. The third and most important thing was the fact she had been exposed to the masses, headlining a major card against the second biggest star in women’s mixed martial arts.
Fast forward five months, as Lina Lansberg entered the Octagon for a legitimate debut against an opponent more in line with the division she competes in, as well as her physical tools and level of experience. As stated earlier, Lansberg is a very layered and comprehensive striker, as someone with her extensive Muay Thai background should be. Her game is defined by her willingness to aggressively pressure her opposition; working behind a snappy and active jab, Lansberg dictates pace and place of fights. She also uses that jab to set up her punches, which are sharp, accurate, and balanced in head and body placement. Lansberg also makes great use of kicks, and while she isn’t a devastating kicker, she is a very active and fast kicker.
But the highlight of Lansberg’s game is the clinch. She uses her jab and combination punching to trap her opponents and create the opportunity to get her hands on them, controlling them in the clinch and systematically dismantling them with a combination of knees and elbows mixed with the occasional trip or throw to get into top position. Lansberg has the skills to employ a stick and move game, but that suits neither her identity as a fighter nor her technical skill set overall. Unfortunately, this means that Lansberg can in fact be had when facing an opponent who is willing to meet her aggression, exchange with her, and impose her will. As Lansberg, for her all her layered and measured offense, isn’t particularly dominant in the areas of physicality, strength, or power, nor is she the slickest or most disciplined defensive fighter either.
In the Pudilova fight , the good and bad of Lina Lansberg’s game was on full display. As stated earlier, she likes to apply pressure to opponents and take the center of the cage, controlling them and outworking them in clinches. Against Pudilova that created a lot of problems, however, as she was so much longer, stronger, and more physical than Lansberg was. For Lansberg, getting her combinations going and her jab established was difficult due to Pudilova’s aggression and length. This resulted in Lansberg being more aggressive in her attempts to establish the clinch. Because of the danger she faced when trying to get her long range weapons going to set up her grappling attempts, Lansberg, though tireless and technical in the clinch, wasn’t particularly dominant in regard to her physical ability. So while she was able to control Pudilova and land knees and elbows in spots, she wasn’t able to maintain control without a expending a huge amount of energy.
But even then, Lansberg was more times than not forced to the defensive and put on the receiving end of knees, punches, and elbows. She had to resort to her jab (head and body) and kicks (head, leg, and body), highlighting her advantages in foot/hand speed and overall quickness to offset Pudilova’s reach and activity. This set the table for her to gain the clinch, mixing strikes on the feet, trip attempts, and takedowns followed by strikes on the ground, which essentially won the fight for her.
Lina Lansberg was involved in a pitched battle, an exciting back and forth fight that makes a good impression on the division and its fans. Of some concern, however, is how difficult of a time she had against an opponent who probably wouldn’t be considered one of the more physically dominant fighters in a division with Cat Zingano, Julianna Peña, Amanda Nunes, and Sara McMann, not to mention Liz Carmouche, Marion Reneau, Bethe Correia, or Valentina Shevchenko, fighters who aren’t nearly as physically gifted, but whose games are defined by physicality and work rate.
A win is always a good thing, but this type of win for Lansberg creates just as many questions as it does answers; She has shown herself to be a durable, mentally tough, fluid, and balanced striker capable of finding more than one route to victory . That was something we didn’t get an opportunity to see against Cyborg, but her weaknesses were certainly on display, and her lack of physicality or strength is an issue of concern. In the UFC, there are many bantamweights with the size, athleticism, physicality and physical strength to recreate a lot of the problems posed by Pudilova.
Moving forward, Lansberg should be matched up with Leslie Smith or Correia; both women present matchup problems for her, especially regarding work rate and physicality, but Lansberg holds huge advantages over both in regards to technical striking and athleticism. Outside of that, there is always the winner of the Kaitlyn Chookagian vs. Irene Aldana bantamweight fight on UFC 210. Due in large part to the thinness of the bantamweight division, it’s hard to move a fighter along slowly, especially considering Lansberg’s age. Nonetheless, the Ultimate Fighting Championship has a new bantamweight; one who has extensive and world class striking, as well as the support of an entire country behind her. There are opportunities for Lansberg to become a star in the division; she has a look, talent, and a skill set unique to bantamweight. In this division any series of wins can take you from prospect to contender. There are countless opportunities; let’s see what Lansberg does with them.
UFC Fight Night 107: Anderson vs. Manuwa took place March 18, 2017 at The O2 in London, England.
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