It would be easy for Geoff Neal to just write off 2020 and begin again in the new year.
After taking eight months to finally book his first fight, the former Contender Series veteran was knocked out of a matchup against Neil Magny after he ended up in the hospital with congestive heart failure and sepsis from a mysterious puzzle that doctors were unable to solve.
As he laid in that hospital bed, Neal couldn’t help but question what the future might hold for him but looking back now he remembers some wise words from his mother that definitely served as inspiration.
“My mom was telling me one day ‘don’t worry about this son, God has better plans in store for you,’” Neal relayed when speaking to MMA Fighting. “I’m in a hospital bed so I’m not hearing none of that but what she said is real.”
Neal believes those divine plans led him to the UFC Vegas 17 main event where he clashes with two-time title contender Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson. The fight is exactly what Neal wanted after he went scorched-earth on his first five opponents in the UFC with only one of them managing to take him to a decision.
Despite his impressive win streak, Neal couldn’t seem to get a top-10 ranked opponent to even glance in his direction and the frustration was starting to get to him. That was until he got the call that the UFC was offering him the fight against Wonderboy, a proven veteran with a track record that stands up to the best of the best in the welterweight division.
“He wants to fight. He’s a fighter. He’s not going to pull a Leon [Edwards] and just wait forever until something happens,” Neal said about Thompson. “I honestly didn’t expect anybody in the top-five to accept a fight with me so when I got the call saying ‘hey, you’re fighting Wonderboy I was like what? For real? Let’s do it!
“It’s crazy. My first ranked opponent and it’s the No. 5 dude. I didn’t have to fight No. 14, No. 13, no, you’re going straight to No. 5. Like OK.”
Much like Thompson’s demeanor heading into fights, Neal doesn’t see any need to tear down his opponent for the sake of promotion.
Instead, the 30-year-old welterweight prospect looks at Wonderboy and sees a dynamic, creative striker, who would give anybody fits on the feet. In fact after Thompson dispatched past opponents like Jorge Masvidal, Vicente Luque and Rory MacDonald, Neal sees him ahead of the pack when it comes to his striking skills.
“I think he’s the best striker in the division right now,” Neal said. “I’m really looking to come and take that title from him come Dec. 19. He’s a cool dude. He’s really good. He’s really fast. He knows how to go in and fight and not take a lot of damage, which is key when it comes to the fight game. You don’t want to be known as a dude taking a lot of damage cause that only lasts so long. That’s why he’s 37 and still fighting in the UFC.
“I think he’s really good. I think I have the tools to beat him. He hasn’t seen all my tools. Nobody has seen all my tools. I’m really excited to go out there and show everybody what I’ve got.”
A win over Thompson would establish Neal as an elite welterweight while putting him just a fight or two away from potentially competing for UFC gold, which is his ultimate goal.
It would also allow Neal to tack on another accolade to his record even if it’s an unofficial title.
“It means I’m the best striker now. Simple as that,” Neal said. “That’s what I really want to do. He has that title and I want to take it. If you look at my previous fights, my striking looks one dimensional. It looks like I only do a few things but I do have a lot more than I can do and I really want to showcase that.”
If he’s successful in his first UFC main event, Neal wants to capitalize on that as he looks ahead at 2021 without losing focus on the task at hand on Saturday night. Much like he did for the majority of this year, Neal plans to stay ready so he doesn’t need to get ready for whatever the promotion throws at him.
“When I beat Wonderboy it would be fair to put me at No. 5 [in the rankings],” Neal said. “If we’re talking about being fair, put me at No. 5. Then I’m in the top-five and I also have a little bit of hype behind me for beating the best striker in the division and then I can start making my calls. I get one more fight and if I finish that fight in dominating fashion then it’s the title.
“Everybody could be scheduled to fight and [Kamaru] Usman loses his opponent. If they need somebody to fight, I’ll step right in. I just want to stay ready and prepared because with the way things are going, you just never know. I always like to stay at around 75 percent. It’s hard to rev on that engine at such a pace but when I do get a fight, I just flip the switch and I’ll be ready in a week or two.”