When you think of fighters who have earned almost as much money in bonuses as fight purses, names like Anderson Silva and Chris Lytle come to mind.
But neither of those fighters -- nor heavy-handed brutes like Chris Leben, Cain Velasquez or Quinton Jackson -- have achieved what Anthony Njokuani can claim to have done.
Over the course of eight months in 2009, "The Assassin" racked up three straight "Knockout of the Night" bonuses during his run in World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC), a feat that no other Zuffa fighter can match. Some have two straight and some even have scored three spread out over several fights, but Njokuani's performances remain unique.
Originally slated to compete at UFC 138, an injury to Paul Taylor left the Nigerian kickboxer without a fight. Shifting over a few months, "The Assassin" found a home on the New Year's Eve card. With his original opponent Ramsey Nijem injured, Njokuani is now set to face Danny Castillo at UFC 141: Lesnar vs. Overeem. Before he steps inside the Octagon for the third time, let's take a look at the three knockouts that put him in the record books.
Looking to rebound from a loss to Ben Henderson in his WEC debut, Njokuani stepped inside the blue cage opposite Bart Palaszewski at WEC 40. The first half of the opening round went by without much fanfare -- both fighters felt the other out and attempted to find their range. Aside from a takedown attempt early on from the Polish fighter, there wasn't a whole lot of action to be had.
That is until the Nigerian fighter connected with a solid right to Palaszewski's jaw that dropped "Bartimus." Njokuani swarmed in for the kill but was unable to secure the win. Allowing his opponent to get to his feet, "The Assassin" began to chip away at his opponent little by little throughout the rest of the round.
A takedown with half a minute remaining was too little, too late for the Polish fighter and he assuredly went into the second round knowing he was down on the judges' scorecards.
"The Assassin" didn't allow Palaszewski to dwell too long on that fact, however. Seemingly have figured out his opponent's stand-up strategy, Njokuani connected with a beautifully time and executed three-strike combination -- right hook, left body kick, right jab -- that staggered, rocked, and finally dropped "Batimus" to the mat.
Hunched over against the cage, his only defense was to cover up while Njokuani unleashed a fury of ground and pound. Seconds later, the Nigerian had picked up his first WEC win.
Four months later, Njokuani returned to his adopted homestate of Texas to take on Muhsin Corbbrey. In a first round that was strikingly similar to the one in his previous fight, "The Assassin" took his time to open up and engage with his opponent. When he finally did, he did so with ferociousness. He dropped Corbbrey but unlike when he did so against "Bartimus," Njokuanki's WEC 43 opponent was felled by knees. Once again the Nigerian was unable to finish his opponent off on the mat so he allowed him back to a vertical base.
Going into the second round, Corrbrey amped up his aggression but it proved to be his undoing. Despite early success, he was caught by a head kick that didn't connect flush but had enough impact to daze him momentarily. As small a window as that was, Njokuani seized it and threw a straight that crumpled his opponent to the mat. A repeat performance of the same ground and pound that ended Palaszewski's night earned Njokuani his second straight Knockout of the Night bonus.
"The Assassin's" next performance came only two months later at WEC 45 where the Nigerian fighter capped off what had been the best year of his then-six year career. Booked against former International Fight League (IFL) standout Chris Horodecki, Njokuani became the only Zuffa fighter to earn three consecutive bonuses for having the best knockout of the night.
The size difference between the two difference was immediately noticeable and just to add emphasis on it, Njokuani threw a quick jab that snapped Horodecki's head back. The IFL veteran attempted the same but his smaller frame didn't allow him to get inside as easily. Instead, he opted to grapple with the kickboxer and muscled him against the cage for a minute or so trying to get the fight to the mat.
They eventually broke off the fence and reset in the center of the cage, exchanging for a bit before Horodecki once again shot in for a takedown. This time, however, it was reversed and Njokuani nailed a beautiful hip toss before smoothly transitioning to full mount for a brief moment. The Polish fighter was able to kick his opponent off and got to his feet.
It was at this moment Njokuani told me he thought, "Where does he think he going?" Horodecki, after getting to his feet, began to literally jog away from his opponent who took the opportunity to launch a jumping head kick that ended up smacking "The Polish Hammer" across the jaw.
A little bit of ground and pound later and "The Assassin" was in the record books.
His career since then has had its ups and downs. After losing two of his final three fights in the WEC, Njokuani made an immediate splash inside the Octagon at UFC 128 when he and Edson Barboza battled it out in a three-round war which put an extra $70,000 in his pocket. Coming up short that night, "The Assassin" got back into the win column with a dominant win over Andre Winner four months later.
Can he make it two in a row -- and possibly add another highlight reel knockout to his resume -- this upcoming Friday?