Neil Magny remembers the exact moment he stopped caring or paying attention to the UFC rankings.
The scenario that forced Magny to lose interest actually had nothing to do with him but rather his spot in the top 15 and another matchup that was booked back in 2016.
“For me to protect my own sanity, my own peace, I quit caring about the rankings a long time ago,” Magny explained on The Fighter vs. The Writer. “I stopped caring about the rankings when it was a situation where I was ranked No. 6 or something like that, this was years ago and Donald Cerrone was supposed to fight Kelvin Gastelum, who at the time was ranked No. 5 and that fight never came through, it never happened. The fight never took place. I think Kelvin had something go wrong with his weight cut and he had to pull out of the fight either the day before or the day of and the fight never came through.
“Somehow the rankings came out the next week and Donald Cerrone found himself in the top five, I fell back a spot and Kelvin Gastelum was at No. 6. I’m sitting there scratching my head trying to figure out how does someone move up in the rankings without actually fighting?”
It was right then and there when Magny had to stop thinking about the number next to his name as well as where his opponents were ranked because none of it really made much sense to him.
“I quit caring about the rankings at that point,” Magny said. “At that point I’m like if I have a number [beside] my name, sure whatever, come and get it. If someone who’s not ranked wants the opportunity to try and take this number that I have by my name, come and get it. Try and make that fight happen. For me, I’m ready to do whatever it takes to get that title shot. For me to protect my own sanity, my own peace, I quit caring about the rankings a long time ago.”
Now just because Magny stopped caring about where he’s ranked doesn’t mean he gave up trying to fight more established and better accomplished opposition.
The problem is he’s learned through painful experience that many of the fighters near the top of the welterweight division would rather protect that number next to their name than risk it against somebody considered below them on the ladder at 170 pounds.
“I tried to get a fight with [Vicente] Luque,” Magny explained. “I tried to get a fight with Belal [Muhammad]. I tried to get a fight with [Gilbert] Burns. I tried to get a fight with Khamzat [Chimaev]. I tried to get a fight with ‘Wonderboy’ [Stephen Thompson]. I tried to get a fight with all these ranked guys and for some reason or another, these fights have just not been coming through.
“It was a pretty frustrating place to be because at this point going into this Max Griffin fight, I went eight months without a fight and really long layoffs take something mentally and physically. You see some of these guys that are ranked in the top five, the top 10, I rarely ever get called out from them. Everyone from No. 11 back, they’re like ‘Neil Magny, I want to fight Neil Magny’ because they know I’m the guy that’s going to take that fight.”
Magny has also noticed how the rankings only seem to matter when certain fighters are seeking out particular fights.
A great example was how Magny was chasing a showdown with Khamzat Chimaev after he first started to get some buzz in the UFC while claiming he was destined to become welterweight champion.
Magny immediately called for the fight against the undefeated Chechen and he continued banging that drum until he learned that he supposedly wasn’t ranked high enough to earn a fight with Chimaev.
“Before the Khamzat and Gilbert Burns fight, this was a guy that reached out to me personally and was like ‘hey, let’s make this fight happen’ and he got word back his management that the UFC isn’t interested in making this fight — Neil Magny’s not ranked high enough for you’” Magny revealed. “But then he turns around and fights the guy that’s ranked four or five spots behind me [in Li Jingliang]. Where is the logic here when it comes to the rankings and what do these things even mean anymore? It’s a gift and a curse.
“On one side of it, you want to be in the top five, you want to be close to the title shot but on the other side of it, it’s like what does it actually mean at this point?”
Magny’s frustration only festered even more in the aftermath of Chimaev’s win over Burns back in April.
“We’ve seen guys [like Khamzat Chimaev] win fights, be ranked No. 2 and then call out Nate Diaz who hasn’t won a fight in five years and you’re sitting here thinking how do we legitimize these rankings when you have things like that taking place?” Magny said.
“I can’t understand it. I quit chasing the rankings because it’s the most frustrating thing possible.”
On Saturday, Magny will once again face an opponent behind him in the UFC’s rankings at welterweight as he draws undefeated prospect Shavkat Rakhmonov, who has received considerable buzz as the next big thing in the division.
On paper, Magny still doesn’t have as much to gain even with a win over Rakhmonov because the 27-year-old fighter from Uzbekistan just isn’t as established in his career but he’s never turned down an offer from the UFC and there’s no reason to start now.
“Here I am, fighting a guy ranked behind me — yet again — in order to hopefully get closer to my spot,” Magny said. “So here we go.
“I definitely see some kinks in the armor, so to speak. I definitely see several ways I can go out there and beat him. He’s a guy that’s coming up. He’s undefeated. He’s the young guy. He has way more fights ahead of him than I do. So to go out there and test myself against the best of the best right now is the thing that drives me.”
Whether he starts getting more favorable matchups or not remains to be seen but Magny knows he’s built a reputation that he’ll fight anyone the UFC decides to throw at him and there aren’t many on the entire roster who could make those same claims.
When the day finally comes to retire, Magny knows he’ll leave behind a resume most fighters can never touch and that’s good enough for him.
“I know the fights that I took. I know the risks that I took,” Magny said. “Willing to fight people all over the world, in their own backyards. All these fights most people would not take. Going down to South America and fight [Santiago] Ponzinibbio. Going out to Brazil and fighting Demian Maia in his prime. Nobody wants to do that. Fighting Kelvin Gastelum in Mexico on two weeks’ notice, a five rounder.
“No one is willing to do those things and I took that risk every, single time. That’s something I can hang my head proudly on and I have no shame at all at the end of the day.”