Chidi “Chidi Bang Bang” Njokuani is an ex-Bellator veteran who has found success in the UFC. Since winning a contract on Dana White’s Contender Series in 2021, the 33-year-old is 2-0 in the promotion with back-to-back first-round finishes.
On the other side, Gregory “RoboCop” Rodrigues, 30, lost on the Contender Series in 2020, but back-to-back wins in the LFA earned him a shot in the UFC. Since then, Rodrigues is 3-1 with two knockout victories and a sole loss by split decision.
Njokuani vs. Rodrigues is one of the main card fights on this weekend’s UFC Fight Night 210 card. Subscribe to ESPN+ to watch every UFC fight live.
In what could be an entertaining scrap, the odds are at pick’em.
Njokuani entered the UFC touted as a rangy and talented kickboxer with show-stopping ability. That scouting report was spot on. He stands only at 6’3, fairly average for middleweights, but his reach, especially his leg reach, is substantial. In his first two fights, Njokuani showcased his length and Muay Thai striking power by finding two quick knockouts. Chidi tends to be a fast starter who stands near the cage and allows his prey to come to him. Once they’re within striking range, often being in Njokuani’s range is still out of range for his opponents, Njokuani effortlessly unloads powerful kicks and solid boxing. The most important strike in Njokuani’s deep and versatile arsenal is a long front kick which he uses to keep range and deter forward-moving opponents looking to crash distance.
While Njokuani is a skilled and dangerous Muay Thai kickboxer, his defensive grappling is suspect. He has poor takedown defense, aside from being tall enough to post and keep his base against poor attempts, and he is overly confident from his back. Prior to connecting for a knockout, Njokuani was taken down and controlled for 3:00 minutes of round 1 in his debut, even though his opponent’s wrestling is average at best. Njokuani’s striking can take him far, but until he shores up his takedown defense, he will continue to present well-rounded fighters with a clear path to victory.
Rodrigues fights like a veteran who is unafraid of a fan-friendly brawl. He tends to keep a high and tight guard with a tucked chin because he has shown an affinity to stand and swing. His guard and tucked chin allow him to get into firefights with less worry of being knocked out. Offensively, Rodrigues has improved boxing with solid power and reliable fundamentals. His striking often comes in combination, specifically in short tight bursts, in close where he can use his hips and a wide base to generate power in a phone booth. When he lands, he connects hard. When he misses, because the punches are tight and fundamental, he’s able to get his guard back before an opponent can counter cleanly.
The downside of such a high guard is an exposed midsection; Rodrigues takes such care to protect his chin that he leaves his ribs and liver vulnerable. Beyond striking, “RoboCop” is a strong and gritty wrestler. It’s been a while since we’ve seen him implement this facet of his game in a dedicated way, but when he does, he can successfully hold a clinch or secure a takedown with regularity. His grappling is similar to his striking, short burst movements on the back of solid fundamentals. If he decides to put his wrestling shoes on, he could find consistent success. But, if he tries to stand and trade, Rodrigues could struggle.
This fight being at pick’em odds will likely look severely incorrect after the first few minutes of the fight. If Rodrigues moves defensively at range and sets up a takedown, he should get it easily and be able to rack up control time for the majority of the round. Then, he has the skills to rinse and repeat for a wide decision win. If Rodrigues decides to forego wrestling in favor of a striking match, Njokuani has all the skills to pick him apart for 15 minutes or even find his 3rd consecutive finish.
These odds aren’t even because of such a narrow fight, they’re at even because no one knows which path Rodrigues will take – easy or fun. In a fight where one fighter has a clear path to victory, even if he tends to ignore that path often, I side with him. Having the ability to dictate where and how the fight plays out is a key advantage. I’m backing Rodrigues to clinch, grind, and ride out his way to a win. So long as he doesn’t eat a knee on the way in or absorb a debilitating liver shot while trying to strike, the pick’em odds should be a juicy opportunity.
Pick: Gregory Rodrigues to win (-110 odds to win at BetUS)