"You train every day with guys that push you to your limits, so I don’t
necessarily focus on the guy in front of me; I just try to worry about
what I have to do." - Neil Magny
Let’s just say that in terms of delivering the next generation of talent to the UFC Octagon, the sixteenth season of The Ultimate Fighter fell a bit short of expectations. In fact, on the season finale card, the only fighters from the show were finalists Colton Smith and Mike Ricci.
There would be another chance for two of the competitors though, as semifinalists Neil Magny and Jon Manley were matched up at UFC 157 in February (a fifth cast member, Bristol Marunde, would also get a shot in the Octagon). For the winner, there would be life in the promotion; for the loser, a trip back to the local circuit. That’s quite a pressure cooker to be in, but not for Magny.
“For me it was just a matter of going in there and doing what I do best,” said the Brooklyn native. “I couldn’t worry too much about the outcome; I just had to make sure I did the best I could and hope it all worked itself out at the end. I couldn’t worry about what my opponent was doing or what could happen after the fight; I just focused on what I needed to do at that moment and make sure I take care of business.”
He did, winning a clear-cut three round unanimous decision that allowed him to fight another day in the UFC. You could say that in the face of immense pressure that the 25-year-old delivered on his promise, but he wouldn’t say that. What the Army National Guard Sergeant does say is that he’s been in a lot more dicey situations than anything he’ll see in a sanctioned fight.
“Compared to the military, a fight is definitely a little bit easier,” he laughs. “When I would go out on a mission in the military it’s pretty much life or death and there’s the option of not coming home that day. For a fight, I can always work my way back up if it doesn’t work out the way I want it to. I always have tomorrow to pick myself up and do it all over again. Whereas in the military, if you miss that opportunity, that could be it. There’s no second chance, no reset button, no way to work your way back up.”
That will put things in perspective fast, and while life in the service has helped prepare Magny mentally for the MMA world, his time in the Army combatives program took care of the physical end of things. But the All Army and All Guard Combatives Champion says he’s not the only graduate of the program who is going to make some noise in the UFC in the coming years.
“When I did the combatives program, I remember one year I actually placed third, so there are definitely a lot of tough guys,” he said. “It wasn’t like I wasn’t training and competing in tournaments and taking first every time. I had to work at winning first at the combatives tournaments, and there will definitely be a lot more guys who will come out of the program to make an impact in the UFC.”
But for now, it’s Magny’s time, and this Saturday he’ll get a chance to nab his second UFC win when he takes on Sergio Moraes in Rio de Janeiro. Fighting a Brazilian in Brazil isn’t the most ideal situation for a foreigner, but Magny has gotten some helpful hints from his Team Elevation squadmates in Denver.
“They’ve tried to prepare me for the whole environment,” he said. “Usually when you fight in the US, you have fans that will either boo you or cheer for you. You never really have an audience that are cheering things like ‘you’re gonna die’ and things like that. (Laughs) So they kinda warned me about that a little bit.”
Magny’s training partners, which include UFC vets Nate Marquardt, Donald Cerrone, Jared Hamman, and Cody Donovan, as well as Octagon newcomer Brandon Thatch, have also prepped their teammate for the fight ahead, allowing him to come to the conclusion that his toughest fight will always be in the gym.
“That’s definitely how I feel,” he said. “A guy like Nate who’s been around for so long, guys like Cowboy (Cerrone), Cody Donovan, Jared Hamman. Those guys have been fighting top level guys for so long and doing really well, so if I can go in the gym and do well against those guys, it gives me that much more confidence during my fight.”
When that’s the case, it doesn’t matter what Moraes is going to do on Saturday; it’s up to Magny to execute.
“You train every day with guys that push you to your limits, so I don’t necessarily focus on the guy in front of me; I just try to worry about what I have to do,” he said. “I focus on going in there and doing the best that I could and not that ‘oh, this guy fought so and so, so he should be a tough opponent.’ I have a few things to focus on as well as doing my thing and what I do best.”
From the cusp of a return to the local scene to a fight in Brazil on Saturday night with a bright future ahead, Neil Magny has come a long way in 2013 thus far. But he’s not done moving yet.
“I’m looking forward to fighting guys that are more well-known,” he said when asked what his future plans are should he beat Moraes. “I want to fight the guys like Diego Sanchez that have been around the UFC for a while, and guys that have such huge names that I can show that ‘hey, I’m there.’ I need to be in with these guys and competing at a high level with some of the best guys out there. Those are the guys I want to start fighting next.”