LAS VEGAS – Tafon Nchukwi is in the middle of a stretch he’s not particularly used to, and he doesn’t want to get used to it, either.
For the first time in his career, Nchukwi is trying to bounce back from consecutive losses. He’s early in his MMA life, and given he started his UFC tenure as a strong prospect off Dana White’s Contender Series, there’s still plenty of promise.
Nchukwi was stopped by Azamat Murzakanov and Carlos Ulberg in 2022, and when he was ready to try to get back to work in December, one fight was canceled on him and he had to pull out of a replacement booking, himself.
Saturday, Nchukwi (6-3 MMA, 2-3 UFC) will try to get back on track against AJ Dobson (6-2 MMA, 0-2 UFC) at UFC on ESPN 51 at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. The card airs on ESPN and streams on ESPN+.
He was hoping to do it in a return to an old home – middleweight – but some issues with his Friday trip to the scale will mean he’ll be docked some pay and fight at a catchweight. Nchukwi missed weight and came in at 189.5 pounds for the fight. If Dobson accepts it at a catchweight and the commission approves it, Nchukwi will be fined a percentage of his purse.
“I was supposed to fight the end of last year, but my opponent got hurt. Then I got a new opponent. Then I got hurt,” Nchukwi said at Thursday’s media day. “At that time, I was already in pretty good shape. The plan was eventually, coaches always told me that ’85 is where we’re going to be. I was already pretty much ready for a fight, so I was pretty low enough (in weight), so we were like, let’s go ahead and make this transition now. I got better at my discipline as far as controlling my weight. I still wanted to do it right, so we decided to make sure we take the time we needed to just lock down on the discipline before we get back in here.”
Nchukwi isn’t a stranger to the division. It’s where he fought when he picked up his DWCS win to get into the UFC, and his promotional debut against Jamie Pickett was at 185, as was his follow-up, a loss to Jun Yong Park.
Now he thinks the experience from the losses and a rejuvenation at middleweight will pay dividends. But obviously he’ll have to make weight next time out before that will start to happen.
“I go through losses every day,” Nchukwi said. “This one, even though it’s kind of amplified because of the eyes (on it), I just need to get my mind right and do what I need to do. It’s part of the game. Coaches, I’ve had teammates around me who I’ve seen deal with losses. I have people around me who can talk me from being down, bring me back up. All I did was basically just go back to my routine, stick to it and just let time do its thing.
“I don’t think you guys have gotten to see the best of me yet … This time, you guys are going to see a better version of myself.”
Check out Nchukwi’s full interview in the video above.
For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC on ESPN 51.