Two highly entertaining strikers will meet this Saturday night (November 5, 2011) as knockout artist Anthony Njokuani takes on "Relentless" Paul Taylor in the opening bout of the UFC 138 main card in Birmingham, England.
Njokuani is on the heels of his first UFC victory, a tremendous one-sided beatdown of Andre Winner earlier this summer at UFC 132 that saw "The Assassin" throw everything but the kitchen sink at the hard-headed Brit. He's looking to continue his momentum by knocking off another UK fighter.
Paul Taylor had a tough go of it in the UFC welterweight division, but since dropping to lightweight in 2010, he's had a modicum of success, losing a very controversial split decision to Sam Stout and obliterating Gabe Ruediger with a head kick at UFC 126. He'll be wanting to win one in front of his hometown UK supporters.
Can Njokuani keep up the momentum he built with his last dominating victory? Will the support of his native countrymen in the crowd give Taylor the fuel he needs? What is each man's path to victory on Saturday night for this free UFC show?
Let's find out:
Record: 14-5 (1 No Contest) overall, 1-1 in the UFC
How he got here: Anthony Njokuani got off to a hot start in his MMA career, going 9-1 on the local circuit with his lone loss being to current top UFC contender Donald Cerrone. He made his WEC debut in January of 2009 but would unfortunately get choked out by another top UFC lightweight contender in Ben Henderson.
The fighter originally hailing from Nigeria would bounce back, however, with a tremendous run of three consecutive "Knockout of the Night" performances which included tremendous finishes of IFL standouts Bart Palaszewski and Chris Horodecki. The talented striker would come up short against Shane Roller during the WEC 48 pay-per-view, getting taken down by the elite grappler and submitted in the first round.
Njokuani would go 1-1 in the rest of his WEC bouts and would draw Edson Barboza in his UFC debut after the promotions merged. The bout would be filled with highlight reel strikes but he would come up short, although he took home a nice "Fight of the Night" bonus as compensation. The Muay Thai fighter would take out his frustration on Andre Winner in his next fight at UFC 132, absolutely obliterating the Brit over the course of three rounds with one of the most one-sided beatdowns you will ever see. He accepted a bout against another UK fighter in Paul Taylor after his victory.
How he gets it done: Njokuani is all about finding the perfect range. Paul Taylor is not much of a ground fighter so the "Assassin" needs to create a little separation and go to work. Njokuani should have a significant power advantage over Taylor so if he can either stay on the outside and work his kicks or get inside and work his tremendous Muay Thai, either would be acceptable tactics.
Footwork will be key here as well. Njokuani showcased in his last fight that he can be absolutely brutal if he can trap his opponent against the fence and lay into them with strikes. If he can maneuver Taylor towards the cage in a similar fashion, it could be another one-sided beatdown from the talented knockout artist.
Record: 11-6-1 (1 No Contest) overall, 4-5 in the UFC
Key Wins: Gabe Ruediger (UFC 126), Peter Sobotta (UFC 99)
How he got here: Paul Taylor originally got his start in kickboxing but switched to MMA after becoming a sparring partner for a friend who participated in the sport. He was successful fighting in the UK, going 7-1-1 to start out his career and he earned a UFC invite after sending the promotion a DVD of his highlight reel.
Taylor won his UFC debut in 2007, but has had a rough go of it ever since. After going 2-4 over his next six fights at welterweight (although collecting "Fight of the Night" honors in three of those losses), he decided to drop to lightweight. His first cut was not successful, as he wasn't medically cleared to fight at UFC 112 in Abu Dhabi.
After making lightweight successful at UFC 121, he would lose a controversial split decision to Sam Stout on the undercard. The promotion would give him one last shot at UFC 126 and he would make the most of it, destroying Gabe Ruediger with a head kick and follow up punches to earn his first stoppage victory since his UFC debut nearly four years prior. He gladly accepted a bout against the dangerous striker Njokuani in his home country for UFC 138.
How he gets it done: Paul Taylor is primarily a kickboxer, but I don't think he can beat Njokuani in a battle of technique. If he wants to win this fight, he's going to have to turn it into a brawl. Taylor can take a punch very well, and has only ever been finished once in the UFC by incredible submission from Marcus Davis so if he can turn this into a slugfest, it could be to his benefit.
Njokuani has been knocked out before against Masiej Jewtuszko, so if Taylor can get in his face and try to get him to trade strikes blow for blow, he could not only potentially swing the odds into his favor, he could also be guaranteeing a "Fight of the Night" bonus in the worst case scenario.
Taylor did do a terrific job in his last bout against Ruediger once he had him backed into the fence, so if he can somehow do the same thing, that could be to his benefit as well.
Fight "X-Factor:" The X-Factor for this bout is Paul Taylor's level of competition. After over nine years of professional MMA competition, he's still waiting for his first significant victory. None of the fighters he's beaten are still in the UFC and even three of the men who've beaten him are no longer with the promotion. Njokuani has defeated several top fighters on his way up, and his losses have nearly all been to current top UFC caliber opponents. Strength of schedule could be a big player in this match-up.
Another factor is the injury that Taylor is recovering from. He dropped out of his August 4 fight with a broken foot. That was only three months ago, so if he is still a little tender on that foot or if he doesn't fully trust it to plant or throw kicks with, that could swing the tide of the fight towards Njokuani as well.
Bottom Line: Even if this fight doesn't have tremendous implications in the division, it's a thrilling match-up between two very exciting strikers. Like Nam Phan versus Leonard Garcia II, it's a fight that will likely have fans buzzing afterwards as both of these fighters have been fight night bonus hogs throughout their careers. The stage has been set for a highly entertaining stand-up war, now it's our turn to sit back and enjoy the show.
Who do you think will come out on top at UFC 138? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!