UFC welterweight contender Geoff Neal considers himself a man of action rather than words.
With an undefeated run in the promotion including four finishes in his first five fights, the former Dana White Contender Series winner has earned his spot in the top-15 rankings through his outstanding performances. At the same time, upstart prospect Khamzat Chimaev sits just four spots behind him in the rankings with a 1-0 record at welterweight in the UFC. Chimaev’s lone win came against an opponent who is currently 0-2 in the promotion.
Ahead of his return to action on Dec. 19 against former title contender Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson, Neal had been asking for an opportunity to face a higher-ranked opponent with very few takers willing to accept his challenge. Meanwhile, Chimaev was originally slotted to compete in the main event on the same night against No. 3 ranked contender Leon Edwards before a positive COVID-19 test knocked them off the card.
To be clear, Neal isn’t envious or jealous that Chimaev was given those opportunities.
In fact, the 30-year-old Texas native can’t fault Chimaev for taking full advantage of the hype that’s surrounded him after picking up his first two UFC wins over the span of just 10 days. That said, Neal hopes Chimaev and everybody else understands that’s still a far cry from actually earning it in the cage.
“Honestly, it’s frustrating in a way but I signed up for this sh*t,” Neal said when speaking to MMA Fighting. “It’s the UFC, it’s a business. [Chimaev] did what he had to do to get where he’s at so I can’t really hate on the man for it. Does he deserve it? Yeah, in a way. If we’re talking about fighting, no. But if we’re talking about business, yeah, he deserved it.
“He only fought one welterweight so if we’re talking about fighting and him deserving to fight the No. 3 ranked welterweight? Hell no, he don’t deserve that. But if we’re talking about business and how he got the hype behind him, yeah, he deserves that.”
In a sport seemingly driven as much by attention as actual accomplishments, Neal knows that might require him to work that much harder to reach his ultimate goal of becoming champion because he’s never going to be the loudest one in the room.
While Neal certainly acknowledges the appeal of boisterous personalities like Colby Covington, he refuses to allow himself to become a cartoon character for the sake of a few more followers on social media.
“Kids join martial arts gyms not to be an assh*le and talk sh*t and run around the streets,” Neal said. “They join in for self-defense, to learn about respect and integrity. When I see these fighters going out there and making a fool of themselves, I don’t like it. Yeah, it draws numbers and that’s how they say you make money, but you’ve don’t got to sell yourself just to make some cash.
“That might be Colby. It might be his personality that he’s suppressed for so long, and now he’s just letting it loose. Who knows? Who knows if it’s an act or not. It seems like an act, but some of the stuff he says, he might really be speaking from the heart. What you see is what you get from me. As far as a human being, man to man, this is who I am.”
When it comes to his own persona, Neal is just going to be himself inside and outside the cage, which means attempting to demolish everyone he faces while simultaneously showing as much respect as possible to those opponents.
“I take pride in my dignity,” Neal said. “It’s not worth it to me at all. I’m not going to do something or be someone who I’m not just for more money. That’s not what I’m here for and it’s not the legacy I want to leave behind.”
Of course, refusing to go full “Conor McGregor” might require Neal to work a little bit harder than the outspoken person next to him in the rankings. But that’s just part of the job.
“You’ve got to learn to f**king co-exist with both worlds,” Neal said. “You’ve got to learn to accept sh*t that shouldn’t be happening.”
Watch Neal’s UFC Vegas 17 virtual media day scrum here: