The first time Chidi Njokuani got knocked down, it took a pep talk from his older brother to get back into the fray.
Njokuani was 11 years old and had just followed then 17-year-old brother Anthony's footsteps over to the local kickboxing gym in the Dallas area.
When things didn't go well at the start, though, the younger Njokuani wasn't sure he had what it took.
"I thought fighting was something you'd be good at right away," said Njokuani, "I was just a kid, I didn't think of it as a skill you had to work on. So when I got knocked down my first time, I thought that was it. I stopped going, and then a week later, my brother was like ‘how come you're not going? you're going to be good at this.' And I was like 'really, you think I'll be good?' I went back to the gym and basically never left."
If big bro hadn't pushed little bro back into the gym, who knows how things would have panned out for the Njokuani clan? These days Anthony Njoukani is an established presence in the UFC's lightweight division, with a track record dating back to the heyday of the WEC.
Chidi, meanwhile, boasts a kickboxing record of 11-1-1 and is making strides in MMA as well. Njokuani (10-4) meets 7-1 Chris Heatherly in the co-feature bout of RFA 13 Friday night in Nebraska, which will be televised live on AXS TV.
"Once we got really into it, it was the only thing I ever really wanted to do," said Njokuani. "It's gotten us both this far."
While Njokuani's combat sports careers have run on parallel tracks, his biggest fight of note has gone down in the Muay Thai world. In September, he fought Canada's Simon Marcus, the WBC Muay Thai and Lion Fight light heavyweight champion, to a majority draw, the only blemish on Marcus' 40-fight professional record.
"I thought I did enough to win the fight, but of course, he felt he won, too," Njokuani said. "I got hit with four or five low blows and that slowed me down, but I still feel like I pushed through it and did enough to win. Of course, a guy with his name, in his world, you have to do more than just get by in a close fight to get the decision from the judges."
Njokuani has won five of his past six MMA bouts, including a 2-1 RFA record. Njokuani knows that the RFA is where you go to get a serious look from the UFC, and that having an older brother with the capability for spectacular fights is only going to raise the level of expectations.
The 25-year-old Njokuani knows at some point he's going to have to make a decision one way or another on which sport to stick with full-time. But for now, he's trying to ride them both out as long as he can.
"One of these days, the call is going to come from one of the big promoters, whether it's in MMA or in kickboxing or Muay Thai, and I'll reach the point where I'll have to take one over the other," he said. "That day is coming. But I can't let myself think too far ahead. I've got a pretty important fight coming up here."
His opponent Friday night, Heatherly, is a Greco-Roman wrestler from Illinois nicknamed "Stump." Heatherly submitted Dakota Cochrane in his last fight.
"He's the type of challenge I want," Njokuani said. "If I'm going to make it to the highest level I have to show that I'm not just a striker, that I'm able to handle all types of fighters. I feel like I can make a statement out there."
Meanwhile, Njokuani has apparently found a side gig as a stunt double. As a tall, lanky striker, Njokuani has served as a stand-in for Anderson Silva in the camps of fighters like Stephan Bonnar and Vitor Belfort leading up to their middleweight title shots.
"You know what they say, you can't really recreate Anderson Silva," Njokuani said. "But it was actually pretty easy for the most part, other than a few things I wasn't comfortable with. It's pretty dope just to be compared like that. Stephan went out of his way to give me shoutouts leading up to the fight, I appreciated that."
Not bad for someone who had to be coaxed back into the gym.