The Ultimate Fighter
Neil Magny sat back and had himself a little chuckle last year as the MMA world lost their collective minds about the hyper-active exploits of Kevin Holland.
“It is kind of funny what short-term memories some of the fans and supporters have,” laughed the veteran welterweight, who makes his second start of 2021 this Saturday opposite Geoff Neal. “It was like, ‘Oh my God — five fights in a year; no one has ever done that!’ and I was like, ‘Slow down. Wait. I’ve done that.’”
Magny was actually the second person to log five wins in a calendar year, joining Roger Huerta, accomplishing the feat between February and October 2014, with his victory over Gasan Umalatov at UFC 169 serving as the start of a seven-fight run of success that carried him into the Top 15.
He followed that up by fighting five more times in 2015, posting a 4-1 record capped by consecutive victories over Erick Silva and Kelvin Gastelum, and he has remained one of the most active fighters on the UFC roster, ending a 16-month hiatus last March by rattling off four fights and three victories in 11 months.
“I was super-happy for Kevin Holland with the way he went out there and carried himself for that year and it set the bar pretty high because he did five in a year, I did five in a year, so did Roger Huerta, so who can break that now?”
Magny laughs, but not because he’s joking — he really wants to establish a new record and simply doesn’t understand why more athletes don’t have the same “let me fight as often as I can approach” he shares with Holland, who has already fought twice this year.
“Five has been done before by several people now, so let’s go ahead and get six so I can stand out in the record books.”
Having his name prominently displayed in the UFC history books is something that motivates Mangy, who became a father for the first time last year when he and his wife welcomed their son, Liam, into the world.
Since arriving in the UFC after a stint on Season 17 of The Ultimate Fighter, the Elevation Fight Team member has been the workhorse of the welterweight division, entering Saturday night’s bout against Neal with the third-most fights and second-most wins all-time in the 170-pound ranks.
Additionally, Saturday’s contest will be the 25th of his UFC career, making him just the 28th fighter to reach that milestone.
“It means a lot to me,” began the 33-year-old, who had his three-fight winning streak halted by Michael Chiesa in January. “The older I get — and especially now, having a son — it feels good to establish a legacy for myself.
“Not only do I get to go out there and compete and provide for my family, but I’m building a legacy as well. I’m able to say that I’m one of the best to do it in the history of this division and those records are going to be there for a while moving forward.”
The word “journeyman” gets thrown around as a pejorative in combat sports circles because of the shift to more of a “championships or bust” mentality and “If you’re not first, you’re last” approach to measuring success, but like a lot of words, phrases, and designations these days, it’s being misused and misrepresented.
Originally used to describe tradesmen that were not apprentices, but also were not masters; they were skilled at their particular craft, could charge a day rate (journey is derived from the French journée meaning day), but were not bound to a master craftsman the way an apprentice was.
Adapted to combat sports, it became synonymous with veteran fighters that carved out lengthy careers while never quite reaching the apex; the tough outs whose names never came up when listing off the best in a particular division, but that had the respect and admiration of their contemporaries because they knew how difficult it was to put together an extended career inside the ring or cage.
“I feel like people are starting to come around to being able to appreciate the work that people are putting in because of guys like Jorge Masvidal and Michael Bisping,” Magny began, citing the recent welterweight title challenger and former middleweight champion, both of whom were fixtures in the Top 15 for years before finally breaking into the championship picture later in their respective careers.
“People throw the ‘journeyman’ label out there, but you know what? Being a journeyman is pretty hard,” he added with a laugh. “If you want to come out here and get these 30 fights, more power to you, but let me know how it goes though, because it’s not an easy task to accomplish.”
Given his penchant for staying active and his “roll with the punches” approach to things, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Magny is jumping right back into the fray with another dangerous assignment this weekend, reconnecting with Neal after a matchup between the two was scuttled last summer.
A graduate of Dana White’s Contender Series fighting out of Fortis MMA in Dallas, the 30-year-old Neal earned victories in each of his first five UFC appearances to establish himself as an emerging contender in the welterweight division.
Penciled in to face Magny last August, Neal was forced to withdraw from the contest after being hospitalized due to a non-COVID-19-related illness that caused sepsis and heart failure. After receiving a clean bill of health, he returned to action in the final fight of 2020, dropping a unanimous decision to Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson.
“I’m a fan of his work, I like what he’s done in the UFC,” Mangy said of his opponent this weekend. “He’s only got one defeat in the UFC so far and it was a tough, gritty decision loss against Stephen Thompson.
“This is the kind of fight that motivates me, kind of like we were talking about with guys like Derek Brunson where they’re facing these up-and-comers,” he continued, name-checking the middleweight stalwart who halted Holland’s winning streak earlier this year and is frequently tasked with taking on the latest rising star in the 185-pound weight class.
“I feel like this is my new challenge — going up against a guy like Geoff Neal that doesn’t have a lot of fights in the UFC but is a great athlete that brings a lot of things to the table. I’m real excited to go out there and test myself against a guy like that.”
While some will look at Magny’s resume, see an athlete that has yet to experience championship success and dismiss the totality of what he’s accomplished because he’s not one of the dozen men to stand as the undisputed UFC welterweight champion, the Army veteran, proud husband and father, and workhorse of the 170-pound weight class knows that what he’s done and continues doing is something to be proud of.
“The title is the cherry on top,” said Magny. “It’s the one thing that will cement my accomplishments in the UFC, but I’m definitely grateful for the other things I’ve been able to accomplish in the UFC like the win streaks, the guys I’ve been able to fight, and the bonuses I’ve been able to earn.
“I’ve been in the Top 15 for the last seven or eight years now and to be able to hold that place year after year — to be able to compete with the best guys, the established guys and the up-and-comers — I definitely see honor in that.”