In late September, Geoff Neal was hospitalized after being diagnosed with Sepsis and suffering congestive heart failure. Subsequently, Neal was placed on dialysis and stayed in the ICU until he was able to get back on his feet.
The 30-year-old Neal was ordered to refrain from training for a month, staying in his apartment before slowly getting back into the gym. And if you know Neal, one of the most important things to the UFC welterweight contender is embracing the grind. That meant staying out of intense training sessions at Fortis MMA in Dallas, TX, which wasn’t exactly easy for the budding contender.
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In fact, it wasn’t certain that Neal was ever going to be able to compete in the Octagon again. Due to the trauma suffered to his heart, doctors and specialists were concerned about his ability to fight again, so they offered him a form of protection once he resumed training.
“They were trying to give me a shock vest. Pretty much what a shock vest does is that if your heart rate goes below a certain point, it will shock you and keep you alive,” Neal told UFC.com.
“They said to me, ‘You might need this, or you could die.’ I said, ‘No, I’m not taking that shock vest.’”
Neal chuckles slightly as he recalls the moment. He knew that the vest would only add to his paranoia, something that he would have to cope with after his near-death experience.
“When I got back to training, that thought played in my head like, man, I might die,” said Neal. “Anytime my heart would get going I would feel it and I stopped training, but the more and more I trained and pushed through, I stopped thinking about it and felt normal.”
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Neal identified the moment where he finally started trusting his body again as when Fortis head coach Sayif Saud randomly asked him to do a three-round session. The grueling session didn’t give “Handz Of Steel” the time to question his heart; it forced him to put his head down and put this chapter behind him.
Neal’s next chapter is an exciting one, as he will headline his first UFC event on December 19 against former title challenger Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson. The bout with Thompson isn’t something that was on his radar due to the fact that he believed that “Wonderboy” should fight a higher ranked opponent.
Whether he thinks he deserves it or not, the truth is that Neal has earned a big-name fight against a big-name opponent. Neal is undefeated in the UFC and is riding a seven-fight win streak into Saturday’s showdown.
The step-up in competition is something that Neal has been anxiously waiting for, and now that he’s back to full health, he couldn’t be more excited about a striking chess match with “Wonderboy”.
“He’s the best striker in the division and I’m going to get to test my striking against that. A lot of people haven’t seen what I can do because a lot of my fights have been cut and dried, but against Thompson it won’t be cut and dried,” said Neal. “There’s going to be a lot of adjustments I’m going to have to make and he’s going to have to make a lot of adjustments. I’m going to have to do a lot of figuring things out in there and I’m excited for the challenge.”
Neal is aware that defeating “Wonderboy” in his first UFC main event just months after being septic would be a monumental accomplishment. It would make him the first Dana White’s Contender Series graduate to win a main event and would certainly put him on a short list of welterweight title contenders.
And even though there might be some pressure that comes along with the moment, Neal isn’t letting it get to him one bit.
“I don’t even think about the stakes. I have nothing to lose. This is my shot; this is my opportunity.
“I’m not going to in there timid and trepidatious about what’s going to happen; I’m going to take it just like it’s another fight.”
Tune into UFC Vegas 17 to watch the final UFC event of 2020. The main card begins at 7pm ET/4pm PT on ESPN+.