From breakdancing to cage-fighting and Nigeria to the U.S., Anthony (The Assassin) Njokuani has come a long way.
The 29-year-old lightweight takes on Canadian Chris (The Polish Hammer) Horodecki in the co-main event of a World Extreme Cagefighting card Saturday night in Las Vegas. A win over the former IFL star and the hard-punching Njokuani moves nearer the front of the 155-pound contenders' in the WEC.
Whatever the outcome, the mixed martial arts matchup promises some fireworks. The word that keeps cropping up in the pre-fight talk is bang.
"I love watching that guy fight," WEC CEO Reed Harris said of Horodecki. "He goes to the centre of the cage and he stands there and bangs."
That is also Njokuani's comfort zone.
"I'm a stand and banger," said Njokuani (pronounced En-jo-KWA-nee). "So if he wants to stand and bang with me, then we can go there."
Looks like the two won't have any difficulty finding each other in the cage.
"We can sit there and we can bang," said Horodecki (13-1). "I'm real excited for that. He's not going to be scared. I don't have to worry about him shooting on me (for a takedown). But this is MMA, you never know. He trains with a great team. ... I definitely know he's coming with a complete package."
Injuries and promotion problems have limited the baby-faced 22-year-old from London, Ont., to one fight so far this year. A neck problem kept him out of one bout while the collapse of Affliction took care of another. His lone outing in 2009 was a submission win over William Sriyapai at a June show in Biloxi, Miss.
Njokuani (12-2) is coming off two knockout-of-the-night performances in wins over Bart Palaszewski and Muhsin Corbbrey.
Njokuani trains in Las Vegas these days, having made the move from the Dallas area. But his story starts a continent away.
His father left Nigeria for the States in search of a better life for his family. He moved first and then saved enough money to bring over Njokuani, his mother and his older sister to the Dallas area.
Njokuani was three when he arrived in the U.S. in 1983. It's hard fitting in when you come from another country and you dress differently. Njokuani was in slacks and dress shirts, which set him apart.
"It was really hard, it was really tough . . . Being a kid from Nigeria, looking the way I did back then, it wasn't nice," he recalled. "And it actually made me into an angry child when I was younger."
"Kids during that time were really cruel," he added.
Growing up, Njokuani started drifting down the wrong road. Anger led the way.
"I was hanging out with a really bad crowd. I was hanging out with people who were jumping and beating up people, and stealing and all of that. I'm really thankful that I didn't involve myself with any of those activities."
He did get in fights, however.
When it came to sports, Njokuani tried football and basketball. He gave up football because the sport wasn't much fun when you weighed 125 pounds. And he had a beef with basketball because of some of the egos at play.
"After that I was pretty much just focusing on breakdancing and doing hip-hop," he said.
Njokuani switched to breakdancing at 16, having had his fill of other sports and getting hurt at inline skating. He used to go to a local school called Knockout Fitness, which had everything from hip-hop dancing to kick boxing and karate.
"I was doing martial arts mainly for my breakdancing," he recalled.
One of his instructors saw potential in him and suggested he focus on martial arts. Njokuani tried to do both but didn't have the time. His instructor opened his own gym, took Njokuani with him and a year later Njokuani had his first fight -- and his career path was set.
His father never got to see his son's success as a pro. He died in 2003, just before Njokuani's 23rd birthday.
"It made me realize I had to change a lot of things that I was doing to my family," he said of his father's passing. "What really hurt the most is that I didn't get a chance to even have a great connection with him. Because I was always angry towards him and angry with my mom and we never had like a great relationship. We were always fighting all the time.
"It really sucks that I don't have that chance to build a great bond with him anymore. But it also made me change myself, become a better person towards my family and my mom. And now I take care of my mom, I help her out, I'm there for her now and we have a great relationship."
His father's death also took him to Nigeria for the first time as the family returned to bury him at home.
"It was a very beautiful place. I loved it," he said. "Some people were OK, some people were crazy as hell."
His family has prospered in the U.S. His sisters are becoming, respectively, a lawyer, doctor and teacher. Younger brother Chidi is also a fighter.
A former kickboxer who competed in Chuck Norris' World Combat League, Anthony Njokuani's two MMA losses were to Ben Henderson and Donald (Cowboy) Cerrone, both by submission.
"Those two are really good, especially on the ground," he said admiringly.
Njokuani works on his ground game daily, to shore up that weakness.
"You'll be seeing some new stuff coming out of me, especially in the wrestling and jiu-jitsu department. Maybe I'll be taking people down."
His power game is impressive. He sent Kenneth Rosfort tumbling face first to the canvas in one of his more memorable knockouts.
His idol is middleweight champion Anderson Silva, who knows something about putting opponents away. "He's somebody that's pushing me to be better than what I am now."
"I'm trying to be my own person but I want to be kind of like what he is," he said. "Because I love the way he fights, I love his personality. He's a great guy."
These days, a happy Njokuani sports a good sense of humour and a fine set of manners. He seems balanced outside the cage. And he is fighting smart.
The focus is "having fun, having a smart fight and not going out there and acting like a wild man. Because wild men can get you killed."
But he has not forgotten the anger he felt growing up.
"I still keep all of it to help me in the gym," he explained. "Because right now you're seeing Anthony. But when I step into the ring you're seeing the Assassin. And so I still keep all that with me to help me out in the cage, with my fighting.
"It's real easy. I just picture a lot of stuff that happened to me back when I was younger. Once I picture that in the back, just kick back, picture it, boom, I'm coming out as the Assassin. I left Anthony back in the dressing room."
NOTES -- World Extreme Cagefighting has signed a Canadian TV deal with The Score. The agreement, which starts in January, means The Score will air seven live WEC fights. The first live card is Jan. 10 when lightweight champion Jamie Varner meets interim title-holder Ben Henderson. The WEC had previously partnered with TSN in Canada. ... Chuck (The Iceman) Liddell turned 40 Thursday.