Courtesy of WEC
Friday, Oct. 9, 2009 | midnight
When it comes time for Donald Cerrone and Ben Henderson to square off in the main event of WEC 43 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio on Saturday, somebody better save Anthony Njokuani a seat up front.
The Las Vegas fighter has a special interest in the matcup, as the two fighters represent the only two he's lost to in his professional career.
“I’m definitely going to be watching that one,” Njokuani said. “Getting to fight either one of those guys again is something I would look forward to. They’re both great challenges. Whoever wins on Saturday, I’d be happy to fight either one. I want my rematch.”
Njokuani does have his own business to take care of this weekend by the way. But while the 29-year-old isn’t overlooking his fight against Muhsin Corbbrey, there’s no question he already has his eyes on bigger fights down the road.
Dreams of rising to the top of the stacked 155-pound division became clear to Njokuani during a visit to his native country of Nigeria in 2004.
The trip was the first time he had seen his birthplace since his family fled the area in 1983 to escape a violent civil war that had already claimed the life of his uncle.
Although peace had been restored to the country by the time he returned, Njokuani says getting a taste of where his life could have been inspired him to appreciate the opportunities his new life is offering.
“The only thing that went through my head was, ‘This is a beautiful country, but I don’t want to be here,’” Njokuani said. “I’m happy to be where I’m at — in America, pursuing my dreams.”
As much as he says he loves where he's at now, Njokuani admits that his transition to life in the United States wasn’t exactly smooth from the start.
After making the move at the age of three to a suburb of Dallas, Njokuani’s earliest memories of social experiences in the states are filled with getting constantly picked on when he entered elementary school for the clothes he wore.
“I was going to school in slacks and dress shoes. Coming from Nigeria, we didn’t know that’s not the way you’re supposed to dress,” Njokuani remembers. “I was a tall kid, so it wasn’t easy to hide. It wasn’t wonderful.”
After putting up with the bullying throughout his elementary school years, Njokuani says he finally reached a point where he couldn’t take it anymore.
As a middle school student, Njokuani got in the first of what would become many adolescent fights.
“At first, I was taking it. It was always bigger guys trying to fight me, so I would back down,” he said. “One day a guy came up and started picking on me for being African and thought I was going to take it but, in my mind, I just said (expletive) it and punched him in the face.
“I fought all the time after that — pretty much every single day.”
Eventually the schoolyard brawls turned into Muay Thai training under Saekson Janjira and ultimately to Njokuani’s decision to move to Las Vegas in 2008 to train full time under "One Kick" Nick Blomgren.
Although the lanky 6-foot fighter has only been with Blomgren’s camp for a little more than a year, the trainer says Njokuani is quickly improving to a well-rounded fighter from the strictly Muay Thai fighter he arrived as.
“The biggest thing I saw with Anthony was that he fought like a Muah Thai guy — straight up,” Blomgren said. “He needed to work on mixing between that and boxing and wrestling.
“At first, he was only coming up from Dallas for quick trips and I told him he needed to get out here and work on this stuff without interruptions. That’s what happened, and now he’s comfortable doing what I’ve been teaching him to do.”
It’s that versatility that has Njokuani hoping his next run in with either Cerrone or Henderson will go better than the first, as he was submitted by both in their previous meetings.
Those who know him best believe he’s on the right path to see them again.
And to think, it’s all because of his bad fashion sense.
“I told him he should still get beat up because of the way he dresses,” Blomgren said.
Brett Okamoto can be reached at 948-7817 or firstname.lastname@example.org.