Some fighters find the sport of MMA, while for others, the sport finds them. CFFC bantamweight champion Vilson Ndregjoni falls into the latter category.
A member of the Albanian national wrestling team, Ndregjoni had represented his country with distinction, but his athletic career took a different turn when he arrived in Las Vegas.
“I came here for the first time to the United States for the World Wrestling Championships in Las Vegas in 2015,” Ndregjoni told CFFC.tv.
“I competed for Albania. Me and another guy, we were the only two from our country that had a chance to compete in the world championships. So I came the first time, and after that, I really liked the United States because I had almost half of my family here.”
Ndregjoni made the US his second home, and made frequent trips to America. But an injury sustained during a soccer match put his wrestling career on pause, and later set him on course for the cage.
“I hurt my Achilles tendon, and I had to do surgery,” Ndregjoni said.
“Because of that, I chose to stay here to do the surgery.
“After I did the recovery for my leg and everything, I stopped wrestling because it was very difficult to return after two years out.
“So I chose to change from wrestling to MMA because I loved MMA, but in my country, we didn’t really have MMA – only wrestling, weightlifting and soccer. MMA didn’t have much support, so I was one of the first guys from Albania, born in Albania, that wanted to start to fight.”
Ndregjoni debuted in 2019 as a featherweight, and won four of his first five bouts as a pro. A 1-2 run in 2022 forced a rethink, and he made the decision to drop a division. Competing at bantamweight, his fortunes soon changed for the better.
“It was not easy, but I walk around at like 155 or 158 pounds, so I was fighting very big guys,” Ndregjoni said.
“I’m 5-foot-7, so I think it was a good decision for me. I was fighting very good at 145. All my losses at 145 were just because of my mistakes, not because the guys were bigger than me or better than me or something. But you know, we thought that to move on, to get further and have a big career, it was a great choice to go 135. I think that’s very good for us and for my team and for everybody.”
After going 3-1 under the CFFC banner, Ndregjoni earned a shot at the vacant bantamweight title, and he took the opportunity with both hands, stopping Contender Series veteran Ashiek Ajim via third-round TKO to capture the title.
“I was feeling good,” Ndregjoni said.
“We thought we were going to do much better, but we finished it perfectly. We always want to finish the fights, and everything was great, you know? Our team is great, and we’re fighting for Cage Fury, so everything is great.”
Ndregjoni is now set to put his title on the line for the first time as he takes on Brazil’s Wendel Araujo at CFFC 120 which takes place Friday, June 16 at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City. The event streams live on UFC Fight Pass.
“Every guy they bring me to fight, I never say no,” Ndregjoni said.
“I want to be on top of the world, so I fight anybody, anytime. I just need to make sure that I don’t have an injury, and that I have six weeks or eight weeks to train to be ready.
“We watched this guy we are fighting, and he’s a good fighter. He is from Brazil. I’m from Albania, so we are from different countries, but we both came here to follow our dreams, so we are kind of the same.
“I respect all the guys I fight. I respect him, but I also think I’m better than him – from the experience I have, from my wrestling, from everything. I think I’m better than him, so hopefully we’re going to remind everybody who is the champion. On June 16, I remind everybody.”
If Ndregjoni successfully defends his title, it will not only cement his status as the promotion’s top 135-pounder. It will also put him within touching distance of a shot at the big time with CFFC a proven talent pathway to the UFC.
It’s a journey Ndregjoni hopes to follow all the way to the top.
“The first day I started to train MMA, my dream was to become a UFC fighter,” Ndregjoni said.
“I never dreamed about being a champion of New Jersey. I never dreamed about being a champion of New York. I want to be champion of the world because I know my level, and I know my time is going to come.
“This fight, I’m going to make sure Dana White, the matchmakers of the UFC, and everybody around knows my goal. I can fight anybody in the world. I’ve been training with the best guys in the world, the champions from my weight class, other guys at 145, 155. I know my level, and my moment is going to come, for sure.”