While the December setback – the first of Neal’s UFC run – slowed the meteoric rise of the welterweight contender, “Handz of Steel” says the loss proved a valuable experience.
“I mean, losing is a part of this sport, you know?” Neal asked reporters, including MMA Junkie, at Wednesday’s media day at the UFC Apex. “You win some, you lose some, and I learned a lot from that fight, so I take it for what it is. Just moving forward is my only focus.”
It’s possible Neal wasn’t exactly at 100 percent for the fight with Thompson. After all, he was just a few months removed from a life-threatening infection which required hospitalization. He also didn’t have his head coach, Sayif Saud, in his corner due to a positive COVID test on fight week.
But Neal refuses to lean on any of those built-in excuses and says he’s happy to have been pushed for five rounds by an elite fighter like Thompson.
“It’s never too much,” Neal said. “I’m a fighter, so regardless of the obstacles and stuff that I had to deal with, I fought through it – you know what I mean? I still took the fight, went five rounds with a beast and, uh, I didn’t die.”
Neal (13-3 MMA, 5-1 UFC) gets a chance to climb back into the win column at Saturday’s UFC on ESPN 24, which takes place at the UFC Apex, when he faces veteran contender Neil Magny (24-8 MMA, 17-7 UFC). It’s a big fight at 170 pounds, with Neal sitting at No. 12 in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMA Junkie welterweight rankings, and Magny checking in as an honorable mention.
But more importantly, Neal says it’s a great opportunity to prove his worth in facing the absolute top welterweights in the game, including UFC champion Kamaru Usman.
“It’s really important for just, like, a test for my future in the division – like things I need to work on,” Neal said. “If I can’t handle Magny’s pressure, his wrestling, his grind, then there’s no way I’m going to be able to handle Usman or one of the guys up top, so I have to get through him to see where I’m at.”
A win, and the hype behind Neal will certainly build again, but the Fortis MMA product said he’s not concerned in the least about making any bold statements or proving anyone wrong. He’s still confident in his skills and believes he’s destined to compete with the sport’s best. He simply needs to take care of business on Saturday night.
“I’m just going to do what I do best, you know, and winning takes care of everything,” Neal said. “I’m just going to win this fight, and the plan is to win it in a devastating fashion, and that’s the message I’m going to send.
“I’m secure in who I am and what I am and how I fight, so I don’t really care what people say. I’m just going to do what I do best.”
To see the full interview with Neal, check out the video above.
This was originally published on www.mmajunkie.com