Neil Magny (18-4) returns to action this Saturday, versus Lorenz Larkin (17-5), in UFC 202’s featured Fight Pass prelim. The 7th ranked UFC welterweight last appeared in a UFC cage back in March, when he battered Hector Lombard en route to a stoppage victory at UFC Fight Night 85. For most fighters, five months between fights is nothing new, but for Magny - who fought five times in both 2015 and 2014 - such a layoff was highly unusual.
Magny’s time away from fighting wasn’t due to injury or matchmaking. The former Illinois National Guardsman was actually kept busy with a tour of US military bases in Japan. Magny, who spent seven years in the military, visited seven bases in three weeks - teaching seminars and doing meet-and-greets.
On his return to the United States Magny jumped immediately back into training. Though he he had a lot of fun in Japan, Magny stated that there was something unexpected regarding that trip that he is truly grateful for. "It forced me to take a rest," Magny told Bloody Elbow. "Against Hector Lombard, I took some pretty heavy shots and it was probably beneficial for me to go and take at least a month off of training, and let my brain recover as much as possible, before I got back to any heavy training or sparring."
Magny versus Lombard was a wild affair that saw Magny almost finished in the opening seconds, before he recovered and then dominated Lombard for the remainder of the contest. The third round TKO earned Magny a Performance of the Night bonus, but Magny knows full well how close he came to losing that battle. "The first thing I thought was, damn, he hits hard," laughed Magny as he reminisced about the opening flurry that sent him reeling to the canvas. "After that, it was just pretty much survival. I was trying to clinch up when I could, even when I was knocked down I was trying to not just lay there on my back, but scramble into a guard or half-guard position, where I was able to recover and take control of the fight."
Magny’s control of the fight grew throughout the second round - culminating in a mount of Lombard and a raining of blows against no resistance whatsoever. Shockingly, referee Steve Percival decided not to grant any mercy to Lombard - who received over forty straight shots to the side of the head before the round ended. It was uncomfortable to watch. It was also uncomfortable to do.
"That was definitely a tough feeling," said Magny. "I mean, I was punching the guy and it got to the point where I was like, oh my God - this fight is over, he’s not fighting back, he’s not defending himself, he has no chance at this point, and the ref kinda let it keep going, and for me, it just got uncomfortable." Magny half-suggested that after experiencing the strange non-stoppage at the end of round two, and Lombard’s wobbliness in round three, he searched for a more humane alternative for ending the fight (a takedown and submission).
However, fears for Lombard’s long-term health was not the only reason he wanted to get the former Olympic judoka on the ground. "The guy does have a lot of power," said Magny. "You back him up to the cage and he could very well end the fight with one shot, so I didn’t want to give him a chance to get that one shot off." As Magny sunk in a mounted triangle the fight was thankfully called off. Though he was victorious, the weirdness of the bout was an initial buzzkill for Magny.
"The end of the day, whether I like Hector Lombard of not, he’s a fighter and he’s doing this - just like me - to make a living, he provides for his family through fighting. I never want to put myself in a position or put somebody else in a position where I’m potentially hurting them and not allowing them to provide for their family. So that part was what got me the most, just that the ref in there is supposed to protect the fighters when they can’t protect themselves, and I feel like the ref just kinda failed Hector Lombard as far as protecting him."
Magny’s ennui over his victory soon faded though, and the realization of being the first man to stop Hector Lombard in over 40 fights delighted the 29-year-old TUF alum. Magny also holds a lot of pride in what has happened since that finish over Lombard. "After the beating I gave him at 170, he was like, you know what? I’m done with the welterweights," said Magny. "So I beat him out the division, that was a pretty good feeling."
The victory over Lombard continued Magny’s ascent in the welterweight rankings and when a match-up with Dong Hyun Kim was announced Magny felt as though he was closer than ever to a UFC championship fight. However, the chance to impress against another top ten welterweight would have to wait, as Kim withdrew from the bout due to injury. It’s fair to say Magny was not very happy with Stun Gun, once he heard the news.
"It was disappointing," said Magny. "I would give him the benefit of the doubt and say that he’s truly injured, but it was just frustrating overall. If he had a nagging injury that he knew of ahead of time, he should have let the UFC know." Magny continued to state that had Kim originally declined the matchup there would have been ample time to match himself up against one of the other highly-ranked welterweights competing at UFC 202. "I feel that was pretty selfish of him to come in and take that fight and know that he wasn’t one-hundred-percent and then within six weeks of the fight he wants to pull out due to injury. I thought that was a pretty selfish act on his part."
The belt Magny was hoping to climb closer to, with a victory over another top-ranked welterweight, is currently held by Tyron Woodley - thanks to his sterling knockout of Robbie Lawler at last month’s UFC 201. Since winning the title, Woodley has expressed a desire for so-called ‘moneyweight’ fights, much to the ire of some of the 170lb division’s top dogs. But Magny is not worried about the welterweight division’s progress stalling, as has the featherweight division in the wake of Conor McGregor’s adventures outside of the 145lbs. "I don’t think his approach, as far as holding out for money fights, is going to work as well as Conor McGregor’s," said Magny. "Tyron Woodley doesn’t have the same pull."
However, even if Woodley did get a match with Nick Diaz or Georges St-Pierre, Magny said he wouldn’t mind, so long as Woodley leaves a piece of gold behind. "To be honest, I’m in the position where if he does hold out for a money fight and he gets it, great. Good for you. I hope he does get that fight, I hope he’s able to retire and do well for his family. But don’t hold up the belt, because you got too many guys in the division waiting for an opportunity to become champ, myself being one of them."
Despite keeping a keen watch on the current welterweight champion, Magny is still focused on Saturday’s opponent - Lorenz ‘The Monsoon’ Larkin. And Magny’s not bothered that his original opponent was ranked 10th and that Larkin is unranked. "I’m not bummed out at all," said Magny. "Lorenz is a tough opponent, he’s one of the only guys to beat Robbie Lawler in a non-title fight." Magny also stated that the rankings are beginning to lose importance for him, especially given that Kelvin Gastelum, who he beat last year, is ranked above him.
Magny versus Larkin will take place on UFC Fight Pass. This booking decision was called "stupid" by Larkin, during a recent appearance on the Three Amigos Podcast. Magny admitted that he at first agreed with his opponent. "I didn’t understand what was going on. I was like, dude, how can I be going from being the main event and co-main event in the last couple of fights, to being on Fight Pass?" However, after discussing things with the UFC brass Magny’s opinion on the matter evolved. "I’m ok with it. I mean, at the end of the day, the card that I’m fighting on is Nate Diaz versus Conor McGregor, everyone else on the card - it doesn’t really make a difference whether you’re a name or not." Magny added that he is excited to be aggressively marketed alongside UFC Fight Pass in the lead-up to UFC 202.
Though not as many people may see it live, Magny is hoping to put on another showcase victory. And Magny believes his length and cardio will be enough to give Larkin fits inside the cage. Since his win over Lombard, Magny said he has worked most on head movement and footwork, things which will be key to avoiding Larkin’s rapid striking. Magny stated that coaches Leister Bowling and Elliot Marshall, along with ‘secret weapon’ Nate Marquardt, had him feeling confident in being able to exploit the ‘loopholes’ his team had identified in Larkin’s game. Magny called himself "the best welterweight out there, right now" and he believes he trumps Larkin in every department of MMA. However, he does recognize that the former Strikeforce standout has something he doesn’t: a nickname. Although, Magny doesn’t see this effecting the outcome of the fight.
"Fortunately for me, Monsoon season is over."