Veteran Chidi Njokuani will get his first opportunity in the UFC on Saturday following his third round TKO win on Contender Series in September.
With twenty-eight pro fights already on his record, Njokuani’s most notable work has come during his time in RFA and Bellator. He started his Bellator career on a 5-1 run which included wins over UFC vet Melvin Guillard and current UFC fighter Andre Fialho, but ended his tenure in the promotion with two straight losses to John Salter and former Bellator middleweight champion Pedro Carvalho. Njokuani bounced back with a win in the main event of LFA 91 in 2020 before his Contender Series appearance in 2021, and he’ll look to carry the momentum of those stoppage wins into his UFC debut.
“Chidi Bang Bang” competed at welterweight for the majority of his career, but now at middleweight his striking style still makes ample use of his lengthy frame. His rear-leg front kick works well to maintain his range as well as damage the body, and his comfort fighting from either stance opens up further kicking opportunities to the open side of his opponents. Njokuani also relies on his reach when throwing punches, and usually sticks to precise single shots until he hurts his opponent and has an opportunity to finish.
Possibly the most dangerous part of Njokuani’s game is his use of knees in the clinch. While his stand-up is largely based on maintaining his preferred striking distance, when opponents do close in on him Njokuani is quick to clinch up and look to establish head control.. His LFA fight with Cristhian Torres ended in the second round after Torres ate several of knees against the cage and dropped to the mat, and used the same technique in the third round of his Contender Series fight with Mario Sousa before finishing with ground and pound.
While he’s dangerous in the clinch, competing up to middleweight in the latter stages of his career does increase the chances of running into stronger opponents. Pedro Carvalho was able to largely able to control the clinch action during their fight, and Njokuani also struggled with being able to work off of his back when Carvalho was able to get him to the mat. I do think that competing up at middleweight after spending most of his career as a welterweight will limit how dangerous he is in the clinch and create problems when he faces strong grapplers.
Njokuani likely won’t have to worry about being taken down on Saturday, as he’ll be debuting against fellow striker Marc-Andre Barriault. Barriault is currently on a two-fight win streak but is 3-2 (1 NC) in his UFC career so far, so the French-Canadian will be looking to avoid a loss that could end his time with the promotion. I worry a little bit about if Barriault will be able to bully Njokuani in the clinch the same way Carvalho did, but if “Chidi Bang Bang” can maintain his range it should be an entertaining striking battle.
While he’s certainly overdue for his chance in the UFC, making his debut at thirty-three years old with nearly thirty fights on his record limits the overall expectations for his time with the promotion. This fight with Barriault is a winnable one for him, but I think the UFC’s middleweight division has too many difficult style matchups for him.
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