When Neil Magny faces off with Robbie Lawler on Saturday night in the UFC Vegas 8 co-main event, he will be coming full circle with the start of his career.
While he first got interested in MMA while still in high school, it wasn’t until Magny was pursuing a degree in Criminal Justice at Southern Illinois University that he ventured into a gym just outside St. Louis that helped him believe his growing fascination with the sport could transform into something more than just a hobby.
“When I first got involved in MMA, I was going to school at Southern Illinois University outside of St. Louis and at the time, Robbie Lawler, Matt Hughes and Marc Fiore actually opened up a gym called HIT Squad that was right by where I was going to school,” Magny explained when speaking to MMA Fighting.
“So I actually spent some time in my early days of MMA training with Robbie Lawler, training at his gym, that sort of thing.”
According to Magny, those training sessions alongside a pair of legitimate UFC legends like Lawler and Matt Hughes were incredibly tough but it also helped him to understand his own capabilities.
Magny says the pro fighters never took it easy on him, which forced him to get better with each passing day. Eventually, Magny was holding his own and that gave him the confidence that perhaps a fighting career was in his future.
“The training was tough,” Magny said. “I remember days being in the gym and it was never an easy round. I was at a point where I said do I really want to do this for a living? What gave me the confidence to pursue MMA as a full time job was what I experienced in that room.
“Sparring full on with guys like Robbie Lawler, Matt Veech, Brian Foster, those kinds of guys, that let me know ‘you can compete in the sport and do well’ and that motivated me to keep going with the sport and let me know I could hang with the best in the world.”
Originally, Magny was expected to face Geoff Neal this weekend but after the Contender Series veteran ended up dealing with a serious medical condition that landed him in the hospital, Lawler volunteered as a replacement.
Magny was more than ready to face Neal but the opportunity to take on a former champion like Lawler, who quietly had such a massive influence on his career, was truly an honor.
“There’s definitely moments in your career where you feel like you move to the next level,” Magny explained. “Me going against Robbie Lawler, I feel like this is a next level type fight for me. When I sparred him back in the day, that let me know I was able to do this full time and be a fighter that could make it to the UFC..
“Now at this point, beating Robbie Lawler, it lets me know I can be a UFC champion. That’s the mindset I’m going into this fight with. Beating Robbie Lawler and knowing this win does so much for my confidence. It lets me know I can hang with the best in the world and I’m going to be a UFC champion.”
If he’s victorious against Lawler on Saturday night, Magny would earn his third victory over a former UFC champion after previously defeating Johny Hendricks and Carlos Condit in past fights.
As much as he welcomed the challenge from Neal when that was the fight being offered, Magny admits the magnitude of holding a win over someone like Lawler just carries more weight for his resume.
“A guy like Robbie Lawler’s been established in this sport for freaking 15 plus years at this point,” Magny said. “It’s definitely a guy you want to go out and test yourself against. Geoff Neal’s a great opponent. He’s done a lot of great things in the sport thus far but he’s only five or six fights into his career in the UFC. He doesn’t have the name, the recognition, the reputation that Robbie Lawler has.
“So beating a guy like Robbie Lawler, I feel will do a lot more for my career than beating Geoff Neal. Geoff Neal, if and when I was supposed to fight him, it was like all right cool you beat an up and comer, good for you. As opposed to beating Robbie Lawler, the reaction I’ll get is ‘damn dude, you took out another legend. That’s the kind of reaction I’m looking for.”
With two wins already on his record in 2020, Magny hopes to add a third with Lawler and then he’s ready to face anybody else in the top 15 rankings that will move him closer to title contention.
“At this point it will be the third welterweight champion I’ve faced and beaten,” Magny said. “It’s definitely a good badge of honor for my career moving forward. It’s a fight that I’m super excited about.
“If I have to fight Geoff Neal all the way up to Gilbert Burns to assume that No. 1 position, I’m ready and willing to do that.”