Tuesday, April 20, 2010 | 12:05 a.m.
You wouldn't think that Anthony Njokuani, a Nigerian WEC fighter pushing 6-foot-1, would have the problem of being confused with a short, Asian man.
But thanks to a last name that apparently sounds Japanese to most that hear it, Njokuani says it happens all the time.
"It's the craziest thing. This one lady thought I was Japanese," said Njokuani on making a dinner reservation. "She was looking for a little Asian guy and she found a big black guy.
"Everybody thinks I'm Asian, but I'm not."
If the Las Vegas-based lightweight continues to fight like he did in 2009, however, there may come a time when Njokuani no longer needs to introduce himself.
After losing to Ben Henderson in his WEC debut in January 2009, Njokuani (13-2) rolled off three consecutive TKO wins through the next 11 months, claiming Knockout of the Night honors in each of them.
He'll look to add to that streak this weekend when he faces Shane Roller (7-2) on the undercard of WEC 48 in Sacramento, Calif. — the first pay-per-view event in the company's nine-year history.
It arguably will be the biggest spotlight Njokuani has fought under, although he did fight as the co-main event in a December fight against Chris Horodecki.
The amount of exposure Njokuani is receiving suggests the WEC has recognized his potential star power. The fighter has noticed the difference in how he's being promoted and is committed to taking advantage of it.
"I can feel they're trying to put me out there more," Njokuani said. "Not that many people knew me before. You would hear them say, 'Anthony? Anthony who?' But now since (the WEC) started putting my name out there people are definitely getting to know me."
Njokuani's head trainer Nick Blumgren has seen the difference in attention as well, but says that it hasn't affected his fighter's dedication.
According to Blumgren, Njokuani often likes to show up to practice late — but he's always been that way.
"You mean Hollywood?" laughed Blumgren, when asked on Njokuani's rising status in the organization. "We've all seen it, but it hasn't changed who he is. He's still the same guy he's always been.
"He's always late coming in but he's been that way since I've known him."
As great as building his name is, Njokuani has bigger goals in mind when it comes to taking care of business against Roller.
One of them is a chance to bring home the WEC lightweight championship belt.
Although the WEC hasn't made any official announcement on whether the winner of Saturday's fight will get the next lightweight title shot, Njokuani says that he's unofficially been told that would be the case should he end the fight convincingly.
"That's exactly what they're saying to me," Njokuani said. "What I'll be shooting towards in this fight is a title shot. That's why I'm working so hard right now, is to get that opportunity."
If he does end up fighting for the title immediately, Njokuani also would get the chance to avenge one of the two losses he has on his career — an opportunity he relishes nearly as much as the title shot itself.
For the second time in six months, Njokuani will have to watch from ringside as Henderson and Donald Cerrone, the only two fighters to have beaten him, face one another with a championship belt on the line.
He did it the first time in October at WEC 46 and witnessed Henderson squeak out a decision win over Cerrone in what some called the best fight of the year.
With the WEC setting up a rematch between those two for Saturday, Njokuani again will be forced to sit and watch the two fighters he wants to beat more than anyone else.
"It makes me extremely unhappy," Njokuani said. "It stings fighting on the same card as them. But hey, that's the name of the game. You're always going to be on the same card with people you lost to. Hopefully one of these days, I'll get to avenge those losses."
Unlike in October, when he was 1-1 with the WEC, Njokuani likely can watch Saturday's lightweight championship fight knowing he's got the winner if he had taken out the dangerous Roller earlier in the night.
Maybe after earning a title shot on a historical pay-per-view card, Njokuani won't have to deal with a mistaken identity anymore.
"I'm really blessed to be on this card," Njokuani said. "I'm going to give them an exciting show."