Almost two years ago to the date, Geoff Neal was sitting in a hospital bed, lucky to be alive after a light headache turned into a battle to stay alive. On Saturday at UFC Vegas 59, the UFC welterweight finally exercised the demons from that near-death experience.
“I really feel...it was probably mentally, I feel like everything finally clicked this fight,” Neal told MMA Underground. “Everything’s just there. It was kind of getting there before the whole sepsis thing and then I kind of fell off a little bit. Now I’m back on track to where I was. I feel better. I’m bigger now. I just feel better all around.”
Neal first returned to the octagon after the brush with death and suffered the first of back-to-back losses in a meeting against two-time title challenger Stephen Thompson. The Texas native didn’t give himself a lot of time to adjust before facing top-tier competition, not that there were many easy outs in the division.
A split decision win over Santiago Ponzinibbio put Neal back in the win column. But he said it wasn’t until he faced Vicente Luque that he took a big step toward conquering one of the most difficult things about his return from serious illness: the fear of another health scare.
“One of the things, with sepsis came congestive heart failure and my kidneys shut down, so there’s been this fear of gassing out, this fear of dying from being too tired that I’m slowly trying to get over,” he said. “It kind of hit in the second round, it happens, and my coach pulled me out of it and I took over the third round.
That was when Neal turned up the tempo and landed a blitz of uppercuts and power punches that sent Luque face-first to the canvas. It was the Brazilian’s first loss by knockout, and it earned Neal a $50,000 “Performance of the Night” bonus.
“I just wanted to get it done in Round 3,” Neal said. “I wanted to finish him, I didn’t want a decision.”
Afterward, Neal called his shot by requesting a meeting with Gilbert Burns. The one-time title challenger has already been called out by two-time challenger Jorge Masvidal, but a booking has yet to materialize. If it doesn’t, Neal would like to be the backup.
Burns agreed to as much on Twitter, so things are looking good for a big move.
“Anybody ahead, but I think Gilbert Burns makes perfect sense, and I think he tweeted something,” Neal said. “He actually agreed to it, but that’s contingent on if Jorge accepts the fight [with Burns]. But if Jorge isn’t trying to fight, which he’s probably not, then me and Gilbert are going to fight.”