This fight between two elite Lightweights will go a long way in cementing a title shot for either man, depending on who the victor is. Arguably, Khabib already deserves one and could consider himself pretty unlucky that he isn’t standing opposite Eddie Alvarez on November 12th.
However, a game Michael Johnson, fresh off his brutal knockout of Dustin Poirier stands in his way. Let’s run through the salient points to note in this fight, and how each man can look to impose their gameplan on the other and come out on top.
Khabib’s ground game
Khabib Nurmagomedov’s ground game has been unstoppable so far in the UFC. His expertise in Sambo has even made an accomplished grappler like former Lightweight Champion Rafael Dos Anjos look amateurish.
It doesn’t take rocket science to guess that Khabib would be looking to take Michael Johnson to the mat and control him there. Arguably possessing the best top control in the game today, we can concur that Johnson’s chances diminish drastically if Khabib takes him down.
Although Johnson is no slouch in wrestling, he cannot hope to out-grapple Khabib and must try to keep the fight standing as much as possible in order to effectively execute his gameplan.
Johnson to stay in the pocket and trade
As evinced in the fight against Nate Diaz, Michael Johnson’s offence was found wanting when he was kept at the end of a long and rangy jab. When forced to fight from the outside, Johnson’s bread and butter – power-punching from inside the pocket – is taken away from him.
Against Khabib, however, this shouldn’t be as much of an issue for Johnson. Khabib is no masterful, long boxer that can keep an opponent on the outside for 3 rounds and outbox him. If anything, he looks to close the distance and grapple them.
Possessing the hand speed that Johnson does, his chances of catching Khabib coming in are greatly increased given that the Russian isn’t exactly one known for playing defence-first either.
Connecting cleanly when Khabib rushes in could be Johnson’s most obvious route to victory.
Khabib’s intimidation factor
Very few fighters manage to keep their professional MMA records free from blemish, but those that do attain legendary status in the sport. In a fiefdom as unpredictable and given to chaos as MMA, it is incredibly rare that a fighter goes undefeated for as long a time as Khabib Nurmagomedov and Jon Jones (technically) have.
Unlike Jones’ however, Khabib’s resume isn’t littered with stellar names with the only stand-out entry being that of former UFC Lightweight Champion, Rafael Dos Anjos. This, however, hasn’t stopped Khabib from being perceived as a phenom as he does boast of dominant victories in his 23-0 record.
While analysts wax lyrical over his grappling prowess, and rightly so, there is also a wide-spread notion that he is the king-in-waiting for the Lightweight Division; a prospective dominant champion in what is otherwise a talent-stacked shark tank of highly dexterous fighters.
When Michael Johnson fights Khabib, he would have much more than a man with a particular skill-set to battle against. Should he get it done, however, it would undisputedly be the most valuable feather on his cap.
You can catch the action on Sony ESPN, Sony ESPN HD and Sony Six at 8:30 a.m (IST) on Sunday, November 13th
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