Chidi Njokuani entered the sport of MMA with a reputable name due to the exploits of his older brother Anthony, but he’s emerging as a star in his own right as one of Bellator’s most successful welterweights.
After getting off to a 5-3 start to begin his fighting career, the 28-year-old has now won 12 of his last 13 bouts (excluding one no-contest) highlighted by an unblemished mark in four appearances for Bellator. Up next, he gets an opportunity to leap up the rankings when he faces former champion Andrey Koreshkov in the main event of Bellator 182 on Friday at the Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, N.Y.
Though Njokuani came in heavy at the weigh-ins for the second time in three fights —turning his meeting with Koreshkov into a 175-pound catchweight bout — he’s been trending in a positive direction in all other areas.
This will be Njokuani’s second time headlining a Bellator card. At a show in January, he took out 56-fight veteran Melvin Guillard via a one-sided unanimous decision.
It hasn’t always been easy for Njokuani though. A gifted striker, he confessed that he thought he could coast through training due to his natural abilities and it wasn’t until he buckled down in the gym that everything clicked.
“I think my turning point was right before I got to Bellator,” Njokuani told MMA Fighting. “I just really decided to focus more on training and being more disciplined or staying in the gym a lot. And then it started to show and slowly I just realized if I train a little more I can do a little more, if I train a little harder I can do a little better. Now it’s starting to really come into its own. Now it’s normal for me to be in the gym all the time.
“The turning point was probably back in my last RFA fight, or even the Tachi fight with Max Griffin. But yeah, it happened when I got to Bellator, I figured I just really need to crack down on my sh*t. Quit wasting my talents.”
Njokuani has reeled off eight straight victories dating back to August 2013, so the changes appear to be working. Specifically, he credited spending less time on his beloved hobby of skateboarding — he went from riding big stairs and rails to “just stuff in front of the house” — and the efforts of One Kick’s Gym teammates Josh Shephard (a Lion Fight kickboxer) and Jeff Roman (a wrestler who has competed for both RFA and WSOF).
One factor Njokuani doesn’t think hurt his development was the quality of competition he faced early on. In just his third and fourth fights, Njokuani lost to opponents with a combined professional record of 10-1. He later went on to fight future UFC competitors Alan Jouban, who he defeated by third-round TKO, and Brandon Thatch, who finished Njokuani with strikes inside of the first.
Njokuani believes that if he was more mature, he would have handled those challenges better.
“I don’t really think I was thrown into tough fights too quick, I just don’t think I took those tough fights seriously like I should have,” said Njokuani. “I thought I was going to go in there, beat the dude up real quick, and call it a night, and it didn’t go nowhere near as planned. It wasn’t really that the fights were tough, it’s just that I was a f*ck up. I wasn’t on my sh*t.
“I was slacking in the gym, I wasn’t training like I should have been training. My coaches were constantly yelling at me for missing practice all the time and it showed in my fights. I was getting beat by people that I shouldn’t have been getting beat by. ... It had nothing to do with the opponent that I fought. It was just me.”
Another area that Njokuani hopes to experience growth is in his connection to his family’s homeland. His parents moved from Nigeria to Texas in 1983 where he was born five years later and he’s yet to visit the West African country.
He plans to travel there either at the end of 2017 or sometime next year so that he can get a greater sense of where he comes from and bring that with him into the cage.
“Especially right now, I’d love to represent Nigeria and be that guy, and be the face of my family’s country, but I just kind of feel like I’m in a weird place,” said Njokuani. “I don’t really know much about it, I’ve never been there, I don’t want to be looked at as a fraud, you know?
“It is pretty important to me that I really get in touch with my heritage and my background so I can really start representing it the way I should have been doing from the beginning.”