Copperas Cove fighters ready to join “Handz of Steel” Neal in UFC
By TJ MAXWELL
As local sports fans patiently await the delayed start of the 2020 athletic season for the top two classifications, they don’t have to wait to see some Bulldawgs in action.
Copperas Cove’s own Jhonoven “The Samoan Savage” Pati and Jose “No Way” Johnson will get a chance to earn their way into the Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC) with battles in the octagon of Dana White’s Contender Series (DWCS) in consecutive weeks.
Pati (6-3 MMA), will be the first to get his opportunity to join fellow Cove alum Geoff “Handz of Steel” Neal in the UFC with his headlining bout against Jamie Pickett (10-4 MMA) Tuesday night on ESPN+ while Johnson will get his chance the following Tuesday, Sept. 1, against Ronnie Lawrence.
Pati, who has worked his way up through the ranks of Cage Warrior, Xtreme Knockout, Atlas Promotions and Legacy Fighting Alliance is excited about his opportunity to join the best of the best in the UFC.
“My vision whenever I do anything is to be the best of the best,” he said during an interview before a training session at StrKings in Copperas Cove. “I want to be at the top of whatever it is I’m doing. In the MMA world, everyone knows the UFC is the top. I respect Bellator and PFL and all these other promotions, but the UFC is the best of the best. So, I said if I’m going to do this, that’s where I want to be.
“To get to this point in my career has truly been a journey that has its highs and lows. There were times I almost walked away from the fight game, but through determination, hard work and having a good support group that continue to lift you up when you feel really down and are at your low points. I’ve had a solid fan base, family and friend group that have always lifted me up to get to this point.”
Despite going by the moniker “The Samoan Savage”, Pati also has another mantra that is printed across the collar of his fight camp shirt that simply says “Underdog”.
“The significance of the word underdog on this shirt I’ll be wearing going into the UFC is because I’ve always been the underdog. Even at Cove High School, I was a guy that people knew had potential. As a sophomore, I was moved up to varsity at the end of the season. I never got to be the starter though. I was always the guy who backed up the starter. Even when I went to college. I started as a freshman, but then I fell through the loopholes again and it was the next guy up when the next freshman class came in, so I was at second string throughout my college career. I’ve been an underdog my entire life.
“MMA has a team aspect because it takes a team to get to where I am. I would not be anything without my coaches, my team, my fans and my family. But, whenever you get into the octagon, you’re by yourself. You get locked in that cage representing your team. This is my chance to let people know that an underdog can still do these things.”
All three of Pati’s losses were against current UFC fighters, including ranked light heavyweight Ryan Spann. Pati is looking to improve his win-streak to three after a round 1 win over Marcus Andrusia at Atlas Fights 38 and his guillotine choke win over Joseph Pyfer for the middleweight title at Ring of Combat 70.
Win or lose, Pati will be cheering on teammate Jose Johnson (11-5 MMA) the following Tuesday who became a viral sensation with an elbow knockout of Rafael Costa at LFA 78. Johnson has won five consecutive fights after beginning his pro career 6-5.
“Handz of Steel” Neal was slated to fight Neil Magny in between those two DWCS bouts in the UFC Fight Night: Smith vs. Rakic on October 29 in Las Vegas but is recovering from a life-threatening infection that resulted in septic shock and sent him to the ICU for nearly a week forcing him to pull out of the bout with Magny.
“Long story short, I was sick for a minute,” Neal said in a video interview with Mike Bohn of MMA Junkie. “It was like a five-day process before I even got admitted into the ICU. Pretty much I had an infection. It’s still unknown what really caused it, but the infection got in my blood stream and I went into septic shock. That’s what almost sent me over the edge.”
Neal is on the mend and awaiting medical clearance to rejoin his teammates at Fortis MMA in Fort Worth. He’s looking forward to getting back to the grind. “They want me to take things easy,” Neal said to MMA Junkie. “My body went through a lot. My body, all my organs, my heart. Once I get cleared, I got a couple of appointments next week. I’m going to get cleared, and once I get cleared, I’m going to start off with like light workouts and stuff, but I’m not gonna hit it hard right off the jump. I’m gonna slowly get back into it.”