Bobby Lupo - Great thread.
Justin was an All-American wrestler 12 years ago. That likely has little bearing on this fight considering it's a skill he hasn't shown at all in high level MMA. His wrestling is a question mark and fans should assume anything.
It should be noted that Khabib loses a lot of steam after the first two rounds. If he's chaining takedowns together and fighting at a hard pace, he will likely gas first.
As much as Khabib's wrestling will limit Justin's striking, Justin's counter hook will limit Khabib's wrestling. IMO, Khabib has a brick for a chin, but that's not a solid strategy for closing the distance. Khabib can't grab Justin with reckless abandon or try to close the gap with goofy floppy jabs b/c Justin will counter the shit out of him. If I'm Khabib's coach, I'm working on Fedor-esque power punch to clinch. Throw kill shots, make just react, grab a hold of him, take your time and make sure you get the TD. If he happens to land, good. Khabib hits hard AF and is the bigger, much stronger man in this fight. Khabib is bigger than GSP and fighting a mid-sized LW.
Justin looked incredible in the Ferg fight, but how much of that was Tony being a shell of himself who was unable or unwilling to get out of the way of punches? Justin showed really clean, technical boxing, with snap in his shots. There's a very good chance that through footwork and quick, clean punches, Justin will turn Khabib into a Frankenstein punching bag for a period of time. Justin showed that he's willing to keep it technical and not overextending himself hunting for a KO. If Khabib is getting hammered standing, he's going to become very predictable, and through distance management and footwork, Justin should be able to have at least McGregor levels of success playing matador.
This might be an opportunity to see what Khabib does when he's behind in a fight and things aren't going his way. I'd bet that he's even better and more determined when he's behind and will eventually overwhelm Justin.
It makes me think, too, that another skill that Justin has that none of Khabib's opponents outside of Conor has: the ability to take 'just one step' out of range and then to re-engage.
Say Khabib goes for a flying knee to engage the clinch. Most fighters, even as the highest level, either get clinched from there, or they completely disengage and reset. I can imagine Justin taking just one step back and throwing two punches before reseting. He might punish Khabib in a way that no other fighter has, because only Conor has that skill, but Conor's TDD and clinch work was not good enough to use it.
Agree. Justin has that spatial awareness that's really rare in MMA. I'd discourage leg kicks early, just so he's able to keep moving out of Khabib range and disrupting the clinch and maul game and landing and moving.
I wonder what the speed gap will look like. I thought Conor would have been much quicker than Khabib, but it wasn't so pronounced. He looked like dogshit whether it was lack of preparation or because he spent the whole camp clinch wrestling and resisting the urge to get off his back. I think Justin's technical advantages on the feet: movement, evasiveness, and short, clean punches might make him look like the much quicker man.
I can envision a tired, frustrated Khabib down 2-0 on the cards, coming out for the third like a relentless monster.
IMO, the guy who disrupt the other guy's gameplan early in the fight will have a huge advantage. If Justin's checking Khabib's forward march with tight hooks, it's going to be a very interesting fight. I kind of hope Justin feints and shoots early just to see how Khabib reacts.