Bellator 210: “Njokuani vs. Salter” takes place tomorrow night (Fri., Nov. 30, 2018) at WinStar World Casino and Resort in Thackerville, Okla., with Chidi “Bang Bang” Njokuani (18-5, 1 NC) returning to mixed martial arts (MMA) action to fight submission wizard John Salter (15-4) in the Paramount Network-televised main event.
Salter will be looking to bounce back from a third round submission loss to Rafael Lovato Jr. earlier this year — his first defeat in eight fights and first loss since coming to Bellator MMA. You couldn’t ask for more motivation than that. Then again, Njokuani may have just as much to prove if not more than his opponent. Although he’s coming off a hard-fought win over Hisaki Kato just about one year ago, that bout was his Middleweight debut in Bellator and he’s been inactive ever since.
“It’s cool. I was looking forward to fighting Melvin more because of his name and who he is and what he’s accomplished. I thought it would be pretty dope to beat a person like him.”
With almost 100 fights combined between kickboxing and MMA, “No Mercy” is a legend in combat sports; however, Salter — a former Middleweight contender — is an equally formidable foe.
“Stylistically, it’s just like night and day, but Salter’s good in his own way, though. He’s a legit jiu-jitsu guy and wrestler. It’s gonna be a different fight for me, but I guess the gameplan doesn’t really change much. I’m always going to go out there and do what I do.”
Indeed, what they do is radically different. Salter has won five of his last seven bouts via submission and Njokuani has taken more than 50 percent of his wins (10 of 18) by knockout. Although a foot injury from beating Hisaki Kato sidelined him briefly, he’s been ready to jump back in for awhile.
“After my last fight in December I had to get cleared by the doctor — my foot just looked bad — but I was cleared and ready to go in like January, February, yeah ... I mean early February, so I was ready to go. I was just waiting for Bellator to give me the word.”
“I’m sure it’s being talked about, but I’ll just handle Salter first and we’ll go from there. Even back before this fight was even announced, I figured me and him would fight eventually anyway since he was going for that top spot and so was I. Yeah — I kinda seen this one coming. That’s why it’s not much of a big deal to me.”
In fact, Njokuani had mapped out his path to a Middleweight title shot and expected to go through Salter, Lovato and/or everyone else to get his chance at Gegard Mousasi.
“I’m gonna knock down whoever Bellator puts in front of me, man, that’s my gameplan. I’ve just been trying to stay in the gym a little more often, rather than taking a bunch of time off after a fight. I’m just trying to stay active.”
That philosophy also meant that Njokuani trains more for the fight than the fighter. Even though Manhoef and Salter are as different in style as Salter and Njokuani, the preparation stays focused on being in peak condition.
“I didn’t really go in there trying to figure out a way to get better at anything. I just stay in the gym, stay ready, when a fight comes up it comes up. If not I’ll be ready.”
If one thing has changed, though, it’s that Njokuani no longer tries to cut drastic unhealthy amounts of weight fighting at 185 pounds.
“Yeah, that shit fucked me up, man. I couldn’t deal with that at all. I felt like it would cripple me. It was a fight before a fight. A lot of times I didn’t make weight so I was like losing the fight before I even fucking went out there. No, I didn’t like that — the cut was just too much for me. I’m a little older now so the weight doesn’t come off as easy, but I’m glad to be at 185 now. I’m a lot happier and I can focus more on training and fighting and training to get better instead of training just to lose weight.”
What’s more, seeing what happened to Cynthia Calvillo in Argentina gave Njokuani uncomfortable flashbacks to his own struggles in the past.
“Every time I see videos like that, I feel like, ‘Man — that was me!’ I was damn near could have even been carried on that scale (myself), but you can’t look weak in front of everybody and in front of your opponents and all that. So you gotta try your hardest just to walk over, but it was tough for me, though — 170 was not an easy cut ... AT ALL. I’m glad to be away from that shit, man.”
The good news is that Njokuani has learned his lesson and the fight with Kato proved that his physical gifts (6’3,” 79” reach) are matched with better cardio from not cutting so hard.
“Yeah, that was good. I needed a good three rounds to see how my body would hold up, see how I’d feel at the heavier weight. So that was good — I liked it. Kato’s out there doing his thing right now in kickboxing isn’t he? So he has a legit kickboxing background, he’s pretty up there. He fought one of the best in the world, Joe Schilling, like he fought him twice and beat him, so yeah.”
It may sound like “MMA math,” but the bottom line is that a healthy Chidi Njokuani feels like he can beat Hisaki Kato, John Salter ... or anyone in the world for that matter. And we’ll find out sooner rather than later this weekend.
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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