Southpaw striker, Geoff Neal, will duel opposite Karate master, Stephen Thompson, this Saturday (Dec. 19, 2020) at UFC Vegas 17 inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Neal is already a “Contender Series” success story. He made his first appearance on the show with a solid, but unremarkable, 7-2 record, but impressed enough with a knockout win to earn a contract. He immediately picked up a first-round finish in his official Octagon debut, but it was his sophomore appearance that really drew acclaim, picking apart Frank Camacho before putting him down for good with a head kick (watch highlights).
Three fights later, Neal has only showed further improvement, winning all three bouts in dominant fashion for a perfect (5-0) UFC record. He faces a major step up in competition in his first main event slot, but “Handz Of Steel” has already built himself into a must-watch talent.
Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:
Neal is an excellent athlete who’s been coached well to make use of Southpaw fundamentals. His kickboxing game — and really, his overall approach to mixed martial arts (MMA) — is not overly complicated, but that does not limit his effectiveness.
The first thing to note about Neal is his stance and movement. Neal is rather light on his feet, always shifting his weight between his back and front leg. He establishes a rhythm, showing his opponent a small movement forward as he shifts to his lead leg before usually pulling his weight back to his left leg.
These weight shifts are essentially small false starts. Neal is numbing his opponent to the idea that he’s doing anything more than shifting his weight, when in fact, each time he loads up his lead leg, Neal is ready to explode. If he does, and his opponent is unaware, Neal is going to land hard.
Against Orthodox opponents (i.e. the majority of his opponents), Neal will commonly look to spring to the outside of his foe’s lead foot. This advantageous angle is significant in Southpaw vs. Orthodox exchanges, as it allows the holder of the angle a clean path to land the cross or power kick. Neal will use a left hand to gain the angle before doubling up, putting more weight into the second shot. In addition, Neal can hide a kick — often to the body — behind his angular advance, meaning he’s almost running into the kick.
Alternatively, Neal will chase that angle by blinding his opponent with the jab or double jab. As his right jab flashes, Neal is gaining outside foot position, increasing the odds that his powerful cross finds the chin.
Another movement strategy of Neal’s is to suddenly halt his movement and fire. It’s always dangerous to chase a power hitter, but Neal’s movement and ability to land quick, hard shots at distance is frustrating. Against Niko Price and Mike Perry in particular, Neal did well to catch the aggressive bruisers coming forward by planting his feet with an overhand or high kick (GIF).
Finally, Neal’s other way to switch up his rhythm is to go on the offensive (GIF). Rather than dart in-and-out, Neal will time his opponent backing into the fence and unleash a multi-punch combination. Each of those strikes is seriously powerful, and if he can get his foe to cover up along the cage, Neal capitalizes smartly. Against Perry, for instance, Neal tagged his opponent then pulled his body to his own left, beating Perry’s rear shoulder to line up a devastating cross (GIF).
Beyond his somewhat unique footwork/movement, the rest of Neal’s game is built on Southpaw fundamentals and explosiveness. For example, he does great work with the left kick. Little setup is required to punt an Orthodox opponent, and Neal does the work in establishing the left kick to the lead leg and liver. Then, when he goes high, it only takes one misread from his opponent to end the night (GIF).
The classic Southpaw double threat of left cross and left kick is absolutely in play. Neal’s left hand is a piston, and his left kick is deadly — there is very, very little room for error. Neal is always trying to convince his opponent to slip the cross into a high kick, and if the head is stationary to avoid his shin, his left hand is almost certainly finding its target.
Lastly, Neal has shown real skill in the clinch. He fights for head position well then controls the hands, often allowing him to break with a left elbow or wide swing.
Neal has yet to be taken down while in the Octagon, though he has yet to face a truly dedicated wrestler.
Offensively, Neal only really turned to his wrestling against the wild Niko Price, who showed little respect for Neal’s punching power and charged him. Neal ducked into the body lock well — something he’s done in other fights too — and used his grip on the waist to lift Price. Later, he also scored a double-leg along the fence.
More notable than the takedowns were Neal’s ground striking. From within Price’s full guard, Neal showed craft by repeatedly tying up one of Price’s hands and forcing it across his body, leaving him more vulnerable to shots with the free arm. Those punches added up quickly, and before long, Neal was able to posture up over a wounded foe and stop the fight.
Defensively, Belal Muhammad stands as the most considerable test of Neal’s takedown defense. Several times over the course of the fight, Muhammad was able to put Neal to his butt with well-timed shots, but Neal was always able to athletically scramble up before Muhammad established top position.
That’s a great mentality, but against a more skilled chain wrestler or comparable athlete, Neal may struggle.
A blue belt in jiu-jitsu, Neal has yet to grapple much inside the Octagon.
There are two exceptions. In his debut, Neal secured a truly strange bulldog choke opposite Brian Camozzi. I wish there were more to break down, but really, Camozzi made a mistake in showing his opponent his back along the fence. Neal grabbed the neck, and well, that’s it!
Against Price, Neal spent more time on the mat. When Price exposed his back, “Handz of Steel” did a nice job of jumping into back mount and quickly attacking the neck. In the ensuing scramble, Neal showed good position awareness to prevent Price from reversing and maintaining top position.
Young, dangerous and athletic, Neal is with an excellent camp and has many of the tools one looks for in a future contender. “Wonderboy” serves as a perfect step up in competition, an opportunity for Neal to prove he’s ready for the best right now.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 17 fight card this weekend, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN+ at 7 p.m. ET.
To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 17: “Thompson vs. Neal” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.
Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.