On March 7, RFA 13 features a lightweight battle in the main event between Dakota Cochrane and Efrain Escudero. Heating up the action on the main card prior to the main event is knockout artist Chidi Njokuani (10-4) against Missouri’s Chris Heatherly (7-1).
Airing on the main card on AXS TV, Njokuani returns to the RFA for his fourth battle with the promotion, this time competing at welterweight. In his last fight in the RFA cage, Chidi competed at a catchweight against Jeremy Kimball and was submitted via rear-naked choke. Since that loss, he’s rebounded with a TKO win over LeVon Maynard in Shinzo Fight Sport in August.
The Texas native has made Las Vegas his home base for the past 3 years. Moving to Fight Capital USA with his brother, UFC Lightweight Anthony Njokuani, has been an essential part of Chidi’s growth in MMA. Known for his background in Muay Thai, Chidi has been evolving his ground game as well. When he takes on a Greco-Roman wrestler in Heatherly next Friday, that experience will become an imperative part of his game.
But the 25-year-old admits that no matter who is opponent is, or what aspects of MMA they truly thrive at, he’s not one to over analyze their previous fights. Njokuani told MMA Fight Corner on Friday, he’s the type of fighter who prefers to make adjustments on the fly as opposed to coming in with a preconceived notion of his adversary based on tape from their past battles.
“I’ll watch maybe a fight just to gauge how he fights. And then the whole game plan is my coaches. They watch the fights and they tell me what they want me to do, and how he’s going to do it. I just really like to worry about what I’m going to do. I don’t want to go in there too much thinking, ‘Ok he’s going to do this, he’s going to do that’. I just want to stick to my gameplan and then whatever happens, happens,” said Njokuani.
In 2013, Njokuani competed in both Muay Thai and MMA. In September, he fought the highly esteemed Simon Marcus to a draw in a Muay Thai bout with Push Kick Promotions. Marcus holds various Muay Thai titles and is undefeated in kickboxing through 40 fights. Chidi became the only man to ever fight him to a draw.
While Njokuani admitted that his heart lies with his Muay Thai roots, right now he is focused on making MMA his priority. With five W’s out of his last six bouts, Chidi is confident about what he brings into the cage.
“I feel good, especially my last Muay Thai fight. I wanted a number one ranked opponent. So, I mean that boosted my confidence level up pretty high. I didn’t win the fight, it ended in a draw, but I’m one of the only people that’s ever done that before. So, that felt good and that put me on, not a pedastal, but it made me realize that I’m capable of doing the same thing that the number one guys are doing,” stated Njokuani. “So that and coming off all the wins and then even just the training with the wrestlers that I have in my camp, I feel good. I have a lot of momentum coming into this fight. I’m just ready to get in there and put my hands on him.”
Over the years Chidi’s been evolving his skill set, specifically his ground game; working to become every bit as threatening with his grappling and wrestling as he is with his striking. What’s often worked out to Chidi’s benefit is how frequently his opponents have underestimated his ability to defend takedowns and grapple with them. His current professional record boasts 8 wins via (T)KO and one submission victory. Something he’s ready to prove is he’s more than a one-dimensional MMA competitor.
“I got that one submission and I think his camp was telling my camp, ‘Oh he’s just gonna choke him out. He’s going to come out there and just choke him out first round’. And I choked him out. I just put him to sleep…not because I’m good or nothing, but I just think that they underestimated me. He didn’t expect it. He didn’t see it coming and I just caught him off guard.”
Still, the welterweight isn’t shrugging off the fact that his opponent has been wrestling since the age of 4. With the fight just a week away, Chidi feels that aspect of Heatherly’s game does present it’s share of challenges.
“He has a Greco-Roman background, so I’m expecting to be defending off a lot of takedowns,” Njokuani said. “I’ve worked with a lot of wrestlers, so I’m prepared for whatever. But that’s what I’m really feeling like he’s going to come out and do and try to either smother me on the cage and take me down from there, or maybe even go for a shot. Just his wrestling that’s what I’m really thinking that he’s gonna aim to jump on.”
With the RFA becoming more and more of a feeder league to the UFC, Chidi stated that he would love to eventually fight alongside his brother Anthony in MMA’s big league. Not too long ago, the Njokuani brothers competed in Muay Thai promotions together, but Chidi said it’s been quite awhile since they’ve fought under the same promotional banner. While competing in the Octagon is a goal of Chidi’s, he is comfortable not looking too far ahead.
“I try not to look at the future too much because then you get caught up in the moment,” said Njokuani. “We all got [getting into the UFC] in the back of our minds. We know what [fighting in the RFA] can do for us. And we’re really just banking on getting this win and seeing where we go from there.”
RFA 13 will be headlined by a lightweight match-up between Efrain Escudero and Dakota Cochrane. The event from Nebraska’s Pershing Center will air live on AXS TV beginning at 7pm PT/10pm ET.
Tickets for RFA 13 – Cochrane vs. Escudero are available for purchase now through www.Ticketmaster.com or by calling 800-745-3000. Tickets start at $20, Special 8-Seat VIP Table Packages start at $400, and a Student or Military ID will receive an additional $3 discount.