On the surface, a career in mixed martial arts sounds fun: you get paid to work out; you train in martial arts; you perform in front of fans all over the world; and you get to experience the glory of a win. This can all seem so glamorous and interesting that people tend to put athletes on a pedestal.
In reality, it’s much different. A fighting career also includes physical injury, miserable weight cuts, and, relative to other professional athletes, not the greatest pay day. Financially stable and successful MMA athletes are actually few and far between. It’s a tough, taxing profession, and it comes with a lot of unknowns. This can all come screaming forward even more when a fighter throws a child into the mix.
Colorado’s Neil Magny is a busy UFC welterweight. In the last eight years, he has fought in the Octagon a whopping 25 times. He even had a few years there when he fought five times. In 2014, he tied the record for the most UFC wins in a year. In the oddity that was 2020, he managed to get in three wins in a six-month period despite a pandemic shutdown sprinkled in the middle.
When the COVID-19 shutdowns were beginning in March of 2020, Magny and his wife had just welcomed their son Liam into the world.
“It was honestly kind of nerve-racking not knowing what was going to happen,” Magny told Combat Press. “My wife was pregnant for most of 2019, and I had a whole list of things to do during that time frame. So, there were a lot of uncertainties.
“There was a lot on my shoulders there for a little, but, thankfully, everything worked out.”
The responsibility of bringing a child into the world is already stressful enough, but throw in the financial insecurity that comes with the sport of MMA and it can break a lot of fighters. Some of them will even retire. When push comes to shove, a husband and wife can take care of themselves. A baby cannot. A steady paycheck can seem a lot more appealing in times like these, but Magny’s combination of a positive mental attitude and a side gig allowed him a level of relief that not all can achieve.
Magny started investing in rental properties several years ago. It was something he dabbled in at first, but that he has since grown into a more serious endeavor. In addition to his primary home, he has three rental properties in Colorado, one in Philadelphia, and one in Chicago.
“I’m still living the real-estate investment life,” Magny said. “Still picking up properties here and there, and maintaining the ones I do have. I’m just trying to keep it all afloat and keeping busy with that outside of training.”
Magny is a longtime member of the Elevation Fight Team in the Denver area. He has a wide array of training partners and coaches across different disciplines. The tall and rangy Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu brown belt is good pretty much anywhere the fight goes. While 2020 was a great year for his career — he strung together wins over Li Jingliang, Anthony Rocco Martin, and former champ Robbie Lawler — 2021 did not get off to the best start. He lost a decision to former lightweight Michael Chiesa in January.
“That fight was definitely a bummer,” Magny said. “If you told me before the fight that it was going to play out that way, I would have definitely called you a liar. Sure enough, when it happened, it was definitely not my best night. Chiesa did a really good job of implementing his game plan, and I fell into a gap. I kept trying to play into his strengths the entire fight, and that’s where I was losing the fight. There were times where I would initiate the clinch and then fall into his grappling. For some reason, I was unable to make the adjustment and pull back and work long-range weapons instead of trying to force the clinch and get the fight to the ground.”
Chiesa was a top wrestler at his high school in Spokane, Wash., and he has a whopping 11 submissions in 18 wins as a pro fighter. With no knockout wins and only one knockout loss, Chiesa definitely prefers to grapple, and Magny granted him his wish.
“Since the Chiesa fight, I’ve really upped the training with wrestling and jiu-jitsu,” said Magny. “I’ve been getting a lot of different looks from different people for jiu-jitsu and having them attack from different angles that I’m not familiar with seeing, that way I can have as much data as possible in training camp so I can make those necessary adjustments so that it doesn’t happen on fight night.
“Since [wrestling coach] Leister Bowling retired a couple years ago, I haven’t gotten as much time to wrestle with him, but I’ve been making the trip up to Firestone to wrestle with Leister weekly. An old training partner, Sonny Yohn, who kind of stepped away from the sport for a little bit, has been coming back a lot lately, so I’ve been getting pushed a lot in the wrestling department. I’ve just been getting in a lot of different positions so I can make mistakes and make errors and come back and talk to my coaches about how I can escape from those positions and how I can prevent it and progress from there.”
About four weeks ago, Magny was booked for the main card of UFC Fight Night: Rodriguez vs. Waterson, which takes place on Saturday night. He’ll face a man he was supposed to meet last year: Geoff Neal. Neal was riding a seven-fight winning streak up until he fought in December and dropped a unanimous decision to former title contender Stephen Thompson.
“It came down pretty quick, but I was excited for it,” Magny said. “Geoff and I were scheduled to fight last August, and he, unfortunately, ended up getting ill and wasn’t able to actually make it to the fight. When the offer came down again to fight [him], there wasn’t much hesitation. We already had the game plan for going into a fight against him, and I executed a similar game plan against Robbie Lawler. So, when the fight came up again with him, there wasn’t any hesitation on three or four weeks’ notice to take the fight.”
At this level of the sport, nobody is immune to a loss. However, Magny has not lost consecutive fights since 2013, and that was the only time it has happened in his entire career.
“I want to win this fight so I can pick up where I left off in 2020,” Magny said. “I think there were some necessary lessons to take away from my last fight. Going against a guy like Geoff Neal, who’s 6-1 in the UFC — his only loss was in his last fight against Stephen Thompson — [and] getting a win against him puts me right back in the top of the division, mixing it up with some guys like Vicente Luque later this summer. I’m super excited for this match. It’s going to give me the chance to showcase a wide variety of skill sets and really start to pull away from the pack again.
“That’s nothing personal against Luque. It’s just looking at what he’s done and the rankings and that kind of thing. To beat a guy like Geoff Neal, I think Luque would be the next step in the right direction.”
Magny is in a great position right now. He’s got a healthy young son, a steady income stream, and, while he didn’t win his last outing, he still sits in the ninth spot in the UFC’s welterweight rankings as he gets ready to take on the No. 10 Neal.
“My son is about 15 months old now,” said Magny. “Life with him is getting better and better by the day. He picks up so much more, so quickly. He’ll be sitting at the base of the steps, and I turn my back, and he’s halfway up the steps. Just watching him grow so quickly has been amazing. Home life is going well. Business life is going well. Fight game is going well. I’m just firing on all cylinders right now.”
On Saturday night, in a fight that can be seen live on ESPN, Magny has the chance to get back in the win column. The aforementioned Luque currently sits tied for sixth with Chiesa, and the Brazilian is coming off a win over former champ Tyron Woodley. This weekend’s fight could easily set the stage for a showdown between Magny and Luque this summer. Magny just needs to beat a tough opponent to make all of this come together.
“Neal brings the fight to the match every single time,” Magny said. “He’s an explosive power puncher. He’s finished all but one of his UFC wins so far. So, fighting a guy like that is going to force me to bring my A-game too. I’m looking forward to an exciting match-up.”