For Chidi Njokuani, the long road to the Ultimate Fighting Championship leads through Lincoln, Neb.
At least this week, it does.
Over the past few years, that journey has taken him through Guatemala City; Thackerville, Okla.; Lemoore, Calif.; and several other outposts he would otherwise have no reason to visit if not for competing in regional fighting events.
Such is life as a mixed martial artist perpetually on the cusp of a deal with the UFC. Njokuani, a 25-year-old Las Vegan, is a talented striker trying to get his all-around game to a level that will land him a deal with the largest mixed martial arts promotion.
Each fight could be the one that puts him over the top, and he knows it’s a constant audition.
Njokuani, who is 10-4 in MMA and has won four of his last five fights, will meet Chris “Stump” Heatherly on a Resurrection Fighting Alliance card in Nebraska on Friday night.
Njokuani said his team has not always been overly aggressive in pursuing the next step in his career because he wants to be sure he’s ready to succeed when he gets there. He feels his game has progressed a great deal, though, and it’s time to go the next level.
“I’m ready,” he said after a workout at One Kick’s Gym in Las Vegas last week.
His surname is already familiar to UFC fans. Njokuani’s older brother Anthony has fought six times in the organization after a stint in World Extreme Cagefighting.
Finding his own way in the sport has been a challenge for Chidi, who has the ready-made nickname of “Bang Bang.”
“There’s good and bad to it,” he said. “But I look at it this way: There’s a lot of people that wouldn’t even know me if it wasn’t for him. I take it as a blessing no matter what. I love having a big brother that’s in the league already, and I’ve got somebody I can look up to or a goal I can look forward to or even just wanting to surpass him one day. I have that standard.”
The brothers have similar fighting styles. Both are dynamic strikers who are susceptible to opponents who are strong on the ground.
Chidi Njokuani embraces the chance to fight a wrestler such as Heatherly on Friday to show the progress he’s made in the gym and prove to the powers-that-be in the UFC he’s ready for the call.
“I’d rather strike, of course,” he conceded. “But to gauge my progress, it has to be a wrestler. I have to go out and defend takedowns and do good on the ground. Show people that my ground game is getting better and show people I can do jiu-jitsu and wrestle.
“I’d rather stand up and bang, though.”
The RFA event will air live on AXS TV at 7 p.m. Friday.
■ KIM STOPS HATHAWAY — Dong Hyun Kim knocked John Hathaway cold with a spinning back elbow early in the third round of the main event of UFC Fight Night 37 in Macau on Saturday.
It was the fourth straight win and second consecutive highlight-reel knockout for the welterweight who had largely been known for his grinding decision wins.
Also on the card, heavyweight Matt Mitrione knocked out Shawn Jordan with just one second remaining in the first round in a matchup of former football players.
Zhang Lipeng defeated Wang Sai by split decision in a welterweight bout to become the first champion of “The Ultimate Fighter: China.” Featherweight Hatsu Hioki snapped a three-fight losing streak by handing Ivan Menjivar his third straight loss by unanimous decision.
The event aired exclusively on UFC Fight Pass, as will Saturday’s UFC Fight Night 38 event from London. The free trial period has expired, meaning subscribers are now paying $9.99 per month for the service.
Top light heavyweight contender Alexander Gustafsson will fight Jimi Manuwa on Saturday. A victory would likely secure another title shot for Gustafsson, who dropped a close decision to champion Jon Jones in September.
The event streams live on UFC Fight Pass on Saturday, with the replay remaining on the service to view at any time.
■ ‘RAMPAGE’ TO FIGHT ‘KING MO’ — Standout light heavyweights Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal each won their semifinal bouts on a Bellator Fighting Championships card at Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut on Saturday night, setting up a tournament final bout between them later this year.
During the event, Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney announced the organization is planning a pay-per-view event for May 17. The event would be a logical landing spot for the fight between Jackson and Lawal, though no official decision has been announced.
Lawal, a former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion, won a unanimous decision over Mikhail Zayats and Jackson, a former UFC light heavyweight champion, knocked out Christian M’Pumbu in the first round on Saturday to set up the bout.
A third meeting between Bellator lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez and former champ Mike Chandler was announced as the headliner for the organization’s first foray into pay per view.
Contact reporter Adam Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-224-5509. Follow him on Twitter: @adamhilllvrj.