It’s no surprise that Chidi Njokuani ended up fighting on a big stage in MMA. His older brother, Anthony Njokuani was a staple of the WEC and UFC as an action striker for years, while Chidi was still finding his way through the regional MMA scene.
The younger Njokuani took his time in smaller shows, fighting for eight years before making his Bellator debut against Ricky Rainey last November. He was then scheduled to take a huge jump up in competition against former welterweight champion Douglas Lima at Bellator 156 this Friday. Instead, following the sudden death of Kimbo Slice, Lima was pulled from his fight with Njokuani to fight Paul Daley at Bellator 158 in London.
Njokuani’s fight hasn’t been cancelled, however, he’s still the co-main event for Bellator 156, taking on Thiago Jambo, who was scheduled to fight on the undercard. Njokuani sat down with Bloody Elbow, before his opponent change, to talk about his upcoming fight and his career path to get there.
"I don't want to look at it like lost time,” Njokuani said of the years he spent fighting on smaller shows. “I feel like I used that time wisely. So, it's definitely an opportunity, but I feel like I'm ready now. And maybe if I would have been here before, it might have been premature. I feel like everything's right timing, perfect place, and shit.
“I feel like it helped out my game a lot more. It helped me out with the wrestling aspect, I got the experience that I needed.”
Part of the experience Njokuani got early in his MMA career came from watching his brother Anthony navigate his own fighting career on the bigger stages of MMA. Chidi readily admits that watching his brother has helped a lot by showing him the paths both to success and to failure.
“I've always watched my brother's career and learned off his accomplishments and learned off his mistakes,” Chidi said of his brother Anthony. “He's been a real big influence. He doesn't have to really tell me a lot of things, but I just watch what he does and watch how everything works around him and how when he works hard and accomplishes a goal or when he doesn't work hard and he loses a fight. Just going through the ups and downs with him, it helps me a lot. It helps me to know what to look out for, know what to expect, just help me to get prepared, I guess.”
And while having his brother there to trailblaze for him, Njokuani has still made his own mistakes.
“I actually do feel like I did,” Njokuani replied when asked if he started his pro career too early. “But, through my ups and downs I learned a lot. But, I actually do feel like there's things that I should have worked on a lot more before I just jumped into it like that.”
And because it’s such a strange reference point in a sport like MMA, I had to ask Njokuani about his “Chidi Chidi Bang Bang,” nickname, and whether it’s the kind of thing he reps casually.
“Yeah, I mean... It's funny, because growing up as a kid, I used to get called that a lot and I hated it,” Njokuani admitted. “It was more like an insult, like a joke. But, after a while, I just kinda embraced it, I was like, ‘Fuck it, I need a fight name anyway.’”
Chidi Njokuani faces Thiago Jambo in the co-main event of Bellator 156, this Friday, June 17th on Spike TV. You can follow him on Twitter @ChidiBangNjoku