Prior to this year, Neil Magny had been the most active fighter on the UFC roster.
Over his first four years as a member of the welterweight division, the TUF 16 contestant competed 16 times, including making five trips into the Octagon in both 2014 and 2015, and after a tepid start, the 30-year-old caught fire and established himself as a legitimate Top 10 talent in the deep and competitive weight class.
But after closing out his 2016 campaign with a decision win over former champ Johny Hendricks, Magny was forced to endure a lengthy stay on the sidelines as a lingering neck injury put his future in the cage in jeopardy.
Following a pair of 12-week cycles of physical therapy, the personable welterweight was given the all-clear to get back in the gym and was immediately paired with Rafael Dos Anjos in a crucial welterweight pairing as part of the UFC 215 Pay-Per-View main card in Edmonton, Alberta. It was a stern test following extended time on the shelf, but it was also an opportunity for the Top 10 fixture to potentially pick up the signature win that had previously escaped him and kept him from vaulting into the Top 5.
“Having the long layoff that I did and being able to overcome this injury without surgery and getting to the point that I was able to get to in my training camp, I was looking forward to a fairytale ending like, ‘Oh wow – here’s this thing that nearly took me out of competition and I overcame that and here I am getting a win and keeping things on track.’
“That was the kind of night I was expecting, but it didn’t play out that way at all,” says Magny. “I ended up literally falling face down and not getting that fairytale ending I was looking forward to.”
Magny laughs at his assessment of the contest, which ended in less than four minutes, as he was forced to tap to a deep arm triangle choke, and while it was far from the happy ending he was envisioning, the contest still could end up being a crucial point in the Colorado-based fighter’s career.
Over the last several months, Magny has spent a lot of time reflecting on his mindset heading into the fight and the way his preparations have changed since those two action-packed years where he was competing every six to eight weeks.
He’s thought about the months on the sidelines, the hours of therapy and the constant questions about whether he would ever be able to compete again and how that shaped his thinking heading into the bout with Dos Anjos in September, as well as what he needs to do in order to take the next step forward in his career.
“Going into that fight with RDA, I was creating this thing in my mind where just the idea of getting over the injury was the win,” he says. “I was so focused on ‘Hey, I’m past this injury – I can go back and compete now!’ I feel like that took more precedent than the fact that I was going out there to fight.
“I’ve been working with a sports psychologist trying to figure out what it is I have to do within training to allow me to make myself better mentally and these are the things that are going to help me get the results that I’m chasing in the Top 10 and the Top 5 now,” says Magny, who admits that setting his ego aside and allowing himself to be willing to learn has been a challenge.
“It was difficult because you walk in and here’s this guy that says, ‘We need to deal with your mindset’ and it’s like, ‘I’m good, dude. I’ve been fighting for a while now and dealing with life for a real long time, so there’s nothing that’s going to surprise me and I’ll be able to deal with this fight well. I don’t think I need to work the mental at all.’
“I had to put my ego aside and put myself in a position where I’m able to be vulnerable and learn from this person. So it’s like, ‘This is where I’m at and this is where I want to get. How do we reach this goal?’ And to tell you the truth, it has been pretty beneficial so far.”
Just like last year, Magny gets the opportunity to close out 2017 on a high note, competing on the final fight card of the year in the Pay-Per-View opener opposite former interim champ Carlos Condit.
Getting paired with “The Natural Born Killer” was not something Magny was expecting when he reached out to UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby following his loss in September, but it’s an opportunity he jumped at right away.
“After that fight with RDA, I reached out to Sean Shelby and was like, ‘Hey man, I want to get back in there as soon as possible to get this nasty taste out of my mouth,’” recounts Magny, who enters the contest with a 19-7 record while sitting at No. 12 in the welterweight rankings. “I didn’t want to sit and dwell on it too much. I know I can do better than what I showed and I just want to get out there and prove that I’m a lot better fighter than what I showed in that last fight.
“To get a guy like Carlos Condit who I respect and watched for years and years, this is the kind of fight that is going to force me to get back in the gym and force me to bring my ‘A’ Game, so let’s do it. I’m excited for it.”
And now that the fight is almost here, he’s champing at the bit to get back into the cage and show off the improvements he’s made over the last couple months.
“I’ve been watching Carlos Condit for years, so there is nothing that he’s going to do that is going to surprise me; it’s all about the work and effort that I’ve been putting in for the last few months and going out there and making it count,” he says. “It’s going to be me executing what I’ve been working on and putting on the show I know I’m capable of putting on; that’s what I’m most looking forward to.
“There are no excuses: I’m well prepared; my body is right and my mind is right, so let’s go out there and have a great night.”