Chidi Njokuani returned after his first UFC loss to face Chechen wrestler Albert Duraev, also coming off of his first UFC loss at UFC San Antonio.
Chidi “Bang Bang” has proven himself an all-action fighter with three bonuses, three knockouts, and zero fights that went to decision in his Contender Series fight and his first three UFC fights. Duraev was sitting at 1-1 in the UFC coming into this one, and so this fight could represent a big turning point in his career, while Chidi has gained more fans and more of a secure place in the middleweight division. This fight all but promised to be a banger, and was a stark matchup of styles between the explosive kickboxing of Njokuani against the mauling wrestling of Duraev.
Chidi had the home field advantage, being from Texas, and the crowd was roaring as the fight began. Duraev came out orthodox while Njokuani started southpaw but switched frequently. The feeling out process lasted a while with Duraev calmly pressuring a careful Njokuani. Ninety seconds in he landed a body kick which Duraev used to take him down. Chidi got to the fence and tried to build up from his knees but Duraev held onto his back with one hook in. Duraev pushed him back to the ground and landed ground strikes while maintaining control; Chidi just lay on his side then got to his hands and knees.
Chidi finally stood up with two minutes left but Duraev got his hands locked under the butt, yet he was unable to complete the takedown because of the fence and the balance of Chidi. Then he went to an outside trip which slammed Njokuani to the canvas. Chidi tried to land elbows off of his back from closed guard instead of getting back up. Still, Duraev was on top and controlled him to the bell while landing some ground strikes.
The second round began on the feet, but could Chidi keep it there? Duraev attempted an early spinning backfist in round two which partially landed. Duraev’s slow pressure was able to slowly back up Chidi, who circled constantly to try to stay off the fence. Both seemed reluctant to open up on the feet in round two, though Chidi landed some nice straights. He mostly looked to counter, in stark contrast to the aggression of his first three UFC fights.
With two minutes left Chidi landed a straight right that wobbled Albert’s legs, but he stayed on his feet and recovered. Duraev seemed to be dropping his hands when he threw leg kicks, opening himself up to the power of Chidi, who constantly backed off Duraev with strikes. The rest of the round had little action, and the crowd grew restless as the final round approached.
Chidi opened round three with a big body kick which almost knocked Duraev over just from the force. Duraev postured by gesturing and saying, “Come on,” but it clearly hurt him. Duraev then pressured forward and Chidi circled the outside before landing a knee when Duraev came into the clinch. Duraev ate it and got in on a double leg, then a single leg, then just the clinch. Chidi defended and got off the fence after less than thirty seconds, with over three minutes left. Duraev seemed tired and whenever came forward he got cracked, but he landed slapping leg kicks constantly.
Chidi’s sharp straight punches kept jarring Duraev visibly, but he was extremely low volume, only throwing when Duraev came to him and not putting hardly any combinations together. The latter stage of the round took place more in the center of the cage than before, which Duraev not focusing on forward pressure. Body kicks and straight punches continued to land almost whenever Chidi threw them for the rest of the round and he routinely evaded the wild punches of his opponent.
The decision could have gone either way, the first round was definitely Duraev while the second was close and third was clearly Njokuani. In round two Njokuani landed the cleaner and more damaging shots but Duraev technically landed more strikes, due to his light, slapping leg kicks. The judges had it split, with all three having 29-28 scorecards. However, two of them were for Albert Duraev, so he won the fight in a very tight decision, which the crowd booed.
Official Result: Albert Duraev def. Chidi Njokuani by Split Decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)