Bellator 210: “Njokuani vs. Salter” takes place this upcoming Friday night (Nov. 30, 2018) at WinStar World Casino and Resort in Thackerville, Okla., with pride and ranking in the Middleweight division on the line in the Paramount Network-televised main event as Chidi “Bang Bang” Njokuani (18-5, 1 NC) faces John Salter (15-4).
Originally scheduled to be Chidi Njokuani vs. Melvin Manhoef, the withdrawal of the latter because of injury gave Salter a unique opportunity to step up — one he’s undoubtedly craving after coming up short to Rafael Lovato Jr. in his first-ever Bellator loss. Njokuani won’t make it easy for Salter to get back in the win column, though. His biggest enemy used to be the weigh in scale, but he found success at Middleweight last year and will be anxious to repeat that performance after a full year off from the cage.
Salter recently spoke with MMAmania.com about rebounding from his battle with the still-undefeated Lovato Jr. and what went wrong in the third round of that fight.
“Well, I was doing good going into that third round. I felt like I was ahead. He came out, he threw a couple of flying knees and jumping elbows at me, then he took a shot on me. In my mind I was thinking, ‘You know it’d probably be a lot less dangerous if I just put him on his back again.’ I had him on his butt most of the second round.”
Unfortunately for Salter, hindsight is 20-20, realizing now that it wasn’t the best move.
“So I pushed him up against the cage, I dropped my level to put him on his butt, and I just dropped too far and he’s a strong guy — he wasn’t letting me come back up. And I think rather than bailing on it, in my mind I’m thinking, ‘I can finish this, I’ve just got to keep pushing forward.’ He’s just the kind of guy you can’t recover on.”
Indeed, knowing Lovato’s superior Brazilian jiu-jitsu level meant Salter knew he was screwed immediately.
“He ended up putting me on my back, and he’s such a good guard passer, as soon as he stepped over my leg he hit me with a good shot. You know they always talk about how you hit a black belt (and) they start dropping belt levels, and I’ve never really been a firm believer of that until that night. He hit me with that first shot and I just gave my back up. I’m better than that. I shouldn’t have made that decision, but he’s got such good pressure on top, and he’s the kind of guy you can’t make a mistake with.”
As luck would have it, though, Manhoef’s withdrawal from Bellator 210 gives Salter a chance to come back from that loss much quicker than he expected.
“You know that was my only fight this year so far because of the eye surgery I had to have. So I definitely wanted to get back in the cage this year, you know get something else going, and get on the winning side as well. When this opportunity presented itself I jumped at it right away.”
Even though it would be tempting to think of it as redemption for a loss where he made just one critical mistake, Salter says he won’t look at his fight with Njokuani that way.
“I’ve got to separate this from that scenario and just make this its own individual fight. You know each fight is different and important on its own. While it’s easy to say that (it’s redemption) at the same time I can’t keep that in my mind while I’m preparing for this fight because it’s a completely different fight.”
Not to mention Salter knows that after a long layoff since Bellator 189, Njokuani is just as motivated and hungry to go out there and get a win as him.
“Yeah, he’s been off for a year now so I know he’s ready to get back in there and he’s gonna have a lot of drive to step in and try to get a win, too. You know both of us are going to be as motivated as we’ve ever been.”
Salter also believes that Njokuani is now a stronger fighter at Middleweight than he ever was trying (and not succeeding) in cutting to Welterweight.
“Normally in wrestling (we) kind of look at it when somebody moves up in weight as, ‘Well they’re not working as hard as they used to and they’re not keeping their weight down.’ But, I think it’s a different scenario with him — I think he was just too big for 170. I think he’s probably found the right weight for him and I don’t think it’s a work ethic issue.”
In addition, if there were any doubts Njokuani would be as strong facing guys closer to his size, Salter believes he proved that in the match with Hisaki Kato.
“He did a very good job of keeping Kato off of him. Kato’s got a lot of power. I don’t know that he’s the most technical striker, but he’s one of those guys that if he touches you he’s going to hurt you. You’d think (of) him being the bigger guy, being the natural 185’er, and Chidi didn’t have any trouble keeping him off him. He used that push kick a lot to keep him back and I think he just showed that he belongs in this division.”
Even though Salter knows Njokuani has that kind of power, too, he’s not worried about proving he’s the better man this weekend.
“He’s a very good striker, he’s long, he’s very accurate, and he does a good job of keeping you out at the end of his range and hitting you out there. The issue for him is going to be when we get in and we’re throwing, I’m going have more power than him. I think I’m the bigger stronger guy. He might hit me twice and I hit him once, but I think my one shot’s going to hurt him.”
Complete audio of our interview is embedded above, and complete coverage of “Njokuani vs. Salter” resides here at MMA Mania all week long.
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