On Jan. 20, Neil Magny will compete in his third UFC main event as he faces off with Michael Chiesa in a five-round welterweight showdown between a pair of top 10-ranked fighters.
But the headlining spot just opened up a matter of days ago after the original main event was scrapped when Khamzat Chimaev was unable to compete due to lingering issues following a battle with COVID-19. Despite just three fights in the promotion, and only one win in the welterweight division, Chimaev was being granted a main event opportunity against a top-five opponent in Leon Edwards.
Even before the Chimaev vs. Edwards fight got pushed back, a lot of fighters who have been clamoring for the spotlight for several years were understandably upset that a newcomer with wins over opponents with a combined UFC record of 7-13 was being granted a main event against a legitimate title contender.
Don’t count Magny among them, however, because even though he’s happy to share the main event with Chiesa, he didn’t see a problem with Chimaev receiving so much attention after only a few fights in the UFC.
“At the end of the day, if you think of some of the complaints that fighters have as a whole, it’s being able to be marketed by the UFC, being able to be paid more by the UFC,” Magny explained when speaking to MMA Fighting. “So the fact that Chimaev was able to do what he’s done in the UFC in just three fights, I say more power to you.
“For him to get to the point where he’s fighting some of these guys in the top 10, top five, if he believes he can hang with those guys, absolutely come put it to the test. I’m not going to sit there and say you’re not ready for that.”
Prior to his fight against Chiesa being booked, Magny actually offered to face Chimaev when it appeared there were no ranked welterweights willing to accept the challenge when the UFC wanted to offer him a main event slot.
Magny has never backed down from any opportunity the UFC has given him and he certainly wasn’t going to start with Chimaev.
“If you believe you can hang with the best guys in the division and the UFC wants to make that fight, I would 100 percent welcome that opportunity,” Magny said. “I would either beat him to the point where everybody realizes he’s got more work to do or the guy gets lucky and beats me and he’s actually able to say I told you guys I was ready for it.”
In a lot of ways, Magny compares Chimaev to a high-profile rookie coming into a sport like football or basketball from the draft where athletes routinely sign multi-million dollar contracts before ever putting a ball through a hoop or scoring a touchdown as a professional.
Long term, the 33-year-old veteran hopes that more fighters are able to take advantage of terms similar to what Chimaev has made by storming onto the scene and creating the kind of hype where he was matched up against the No. 3 ranked welterweight in his fourth fight with the promotion.
“I think these are the moments and these are the shifts that are going to allow our sport to be more comparable to other sports like basketball or football where these younger guys, these rookies are able to get these huge contracts early on and kind of raise the pay status for all the athletes that are under that particular banner,” Magny explained. “You have guys coming fresh out of high school, fresh out of college that are able to go play for the NBA, for the NFL and they’re able to play against some of the best guys that have been in the league for five, six, 10 years plus for some of these guys.
“It’s either you can hang with those guys or you don’t. I think bringing fresh blood, a fresh face like Chimaev in the UFC helps everyone across the board. Not just him, not just the seasoned fighters, but all the other fighters that come after him as well.”
Like the old saying goes that a rising tide lifts all boats, Magny believes the impact of fighters like Chimaev will only help other athletes joining the UFC roster in the future.
“It raises the standard, it raises the bar for new fighters coming into the UFC,” Magny said. “Right now, it’s kind of standard that most fighters coming into the UFC get that contract at [$10,000 to show and $10,000 to win] and depending on how their fights go, they’re able to advance from there.
“But if guys like Chimaev are able to come to the UFC and make big waves and make that pay jump to [$20,000 to show, $20,000 to win] or whatever it may be, I think that’s a positive for everybody.”
That said, Magny is obviously more than happy to take the spot vacated by Chimaev as he seeks to start 2021 with a big win of his own to set up an even better year for himself.
“This is a huge opportunity for both Michael Chiesa and I to go out and prove why we’re two of the best welterweights in the division,” Magny said. “It was kind of being overshadowed with the Khamzat hype and Leon Edwards being inactive, it’s kind of taken the headlines going into this fight. I feel like everything played out just the right way in order for Chiesa and I go out and shine.”