The Saturday matchup of Neil Magny against Robbie Lawler in the co-main event of Fight Night: Smith vs Rakic falls into that odd category of a fight that feels like it should have happened already. With the two among just a handful of current welterweights that could safely be called the “OGs,” it seems almost mathematically impossible that they hadn’t touched gloves in the Octagon. I found myself scanning the records of both men just to double check.
Of course, that doesn’t mean they haven’t crossed paths.
As a college student, Magny tested the waters of MMA with the H.I.T. Squad, the storied Illinois team helmed by Lawler and Matt Hughes. And the waters ran deep. In those days, Lawler was already something of a Midwest icon, having competed in number of early UFC events, and holding middleweight championship hardware in SuperBrawl and ICON.
“To walk into the H.I.T. Squad as a 19-year old kid and see guys on the mat like Robbie Lawler, Matt Hughes, Brian Foster, all those guys…it definitely shows the evolution for myself and this sport as a whole. Spending those three years at H.I.T. Squad was one of those things that let me know I wanted to do this as a professional. At the time, those guys were in the UFC. They were at the top of the game where I thought I wanted to be at the time. So it gets to the point that I was able to hang with those guys in the training room, and really push those guys. They kind of gave me the confidence like, ‘you can actually make a run at this and be in the UFC yourself.’ It definitely jump-started my career and my passion for the sport, for sure.”
“The Haitian Sensation” speaks in reverent tones when he discusses those days, and the opportunity to complete the classic student-becomes-teacher story arc isn’t lost on him. It’s his chance to bring things full circle.
“One hundred percent. It took over ten years for he and I to get to the point where we’ll face one another,” he says. “But it just goes to show we’ve been doing the right things over the years that I get to face a legend like Robbie Lawler now. The history just adds to it. It makes for an exciting fight. For me, everything I want is standing right in front of me. I just have to go out and execute. Knowing the type of fighter Robbie Lawler is, both from watching his fights on film and being in the training room with him, that just motivates me to go in there and bring my A-game on Saturday night.”
Magny was absent from the Octagon for all of 2019 following a USADA snafu from which he was ultimately exonerated. He used the fuel of that frustration to come back with a vengeance. Fighting with a visibly updated toolbox, he’s thus far dominated game opponents like Li Jingliang and Anthony Rocco Martin on his comeback tour. A win over the former division champ would make it his third of 2020, and the fuel is still burning white hot.
“As much as I’m focused on Robbie Lawler right now, if I can squeeze in a fourth fight before the year is over, I’m definitely going to do it. At this point, you just have to realize the type of fighter I am. I’m not the guy that’s going to go out there and talk crap and squeeze his way into a title shot by running his mouth and that kind of thing. I’m the person who is going to outwork every single person in this division to get his title shot and become champion. I’m ready and willing to do that if that’s what it takes. If it means I have to fight three times, four times, five times this year? Bring them on. I’m ready for it.”