Geoff Neal knew the day would come when he would finally give up his second job as a server once he made it to the UFC.
Throughout his decade long fighting career, the former Dana White Contender Series veteran had maintained a day job to supplement his income because MMA on the regional scene rarely provided a stable income.
Add to that, Neal had to provide for his family, and serving at a Texas Roadhouse restaurant gave him a steady paycheck as he chased his dreams to make it to the UFC.
Now in his fifth fight in the promotion after rattling off four straight wins, the 29-year-old Texas native quit his other job to focus on the one he truly loves.
“I’m full time in training,” Neal revealed when speaking to MMA Fighting. “I quit four weeks ago. I was serving for like 10 years, so exactly as long as I’ve been fighting. It’s a relief. Serving’s a stressful job, so I’m glad to have that behind me for now.”
The restaurant where Neal worked, Texas Roadhouse in Dallas, was incredibly busy, which was good for tips and guaranteed shifts. But it also added undue stress to his daily routine. That only multiplied as Neal started climbing the ranks in the treacherous UFC welterweight division.
When he got the call that he would be facing Mike Perry at UFC 245 this weekend, Neal knew it was time to make the tough call to give up serving and put his full attention on fighting.
“You’ve got to be focused,” Neal explained. “I was always planning on quitting once the competition got tougher. Mike Perry’s a tough fight, so I was like I need to be fully focused on this next fight because this is a big fight for me.
“I need to get the win. I need to get the finish and move forward.”
As nice as its been to only think about fighting for the past month, Neal admits it’s also been kind of strange, because his time isn’t stretched to the breaking point any longer.
“It has been weird,” Neal said with a laugh. “I’ve been trying to figure out what I’m supposed to do with my extra time. So much extra time. What am I supposed to do here? I use that extra time to take naps.”
On a more serious note, Neal was hoping after finishing three of his first four opponents that a ranked fighter would accept his challenge. But nobody answered the call.
Instead, he draws Perry on Saturday night, who’s coming back from a back-and-forth war with Vicente Luque in his last outing. While Perry doesn’t have the number next to his name that Neal covets, he knows this is actually a golden opportunity, because his opponent at UFC 245 is one of the most well-known and exciting fighters competing at 170 pounds.
“It is stylistically a good fight for me,” Neal remarked. “He does have the one thing that you can’t account for, and that’s his toughness. I might find my openings, but he is still going to be there ready to throw back at me. I need to make sure my defense is sharp mainly.
“I want to finish him. It would open a lot of eyes to me. ‘Geoff Neal’s the first dude to finish Mike Perry.’ It might scare some people in the division. It would be a good look for me.”
If he gets the job done this weekend and racks up his fifth straight win inside the Octagon, Neal desperately wants to move forward with hopes that the ranked fighters ahead of him will give him the chance to prove he’s an elite welterweight.
He understands the inherent risk that comes along with fighting a lower ranked prospect but a win over Perry at UFC 245 should legitimize him as worthy opposition for everybody competing at 170 pounds.
“I think I’m ranked No. 14 like two weeks ago when I checked. After this fight, I might stay at No. 14 when I win but after that I only want somebody in the top 15,” Neal said. “I’ve been trying to get somebody in the top 15 for a while.
“After I beat Perry, there should be no excuses not to fight me.”