Cove alum Geoff “Handz of Steel” Neal victorious in UFC debut
By TJ Maxwell
AUSTIN - Copperas Cove alum Geoff “Handz of Steel” Neal has been waiting for the opportunity to make a splash of the big stage of mixed martial arts and he took advantage of that opportunity with a rear naked choke submission of Brian “Mantis” Camozzi at the 2:48 mark of the first round in his Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) debut Sunday during the UFC Fight Night Cowboy vs Medeiros fight card at Austin’s Frank Erwin Center.
Leading into 2017, Neal had nearly a two-year layoff due to fights falling through and injury.
His first fight back was a championship bout against Kevin Holland at Extreme Knockout 34 where he suffered just his second professional loss.
Since then, Neal rattled off two wins in 11 days in July to earn his spot in the UFC and showed he deserves that spot with Sunday’s quick work of Camozzi in the welterweight division.
“It feels great,” Neal said in the post-fight interview. “It’s been hard leading up to this fight camp struggling with weight and my job. I’m just glad I came in here, got to work and got the win.”
Neal may have been fueled by the great reception from his hometown crowd and many family and friends in attendance.
“I felt this crowd,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of people in here supporting me. They came just to see me and I love ya’ll.”
Neal (9-2, 1-0 in the UFC) overwhelmed Camozzi early with a barrage of punches that immediately showed on the face of Camozzi.
A big left hand dazed Camozzi but he responded with an elbow to the right eyebrow of Neal and split him wide open.
Neal then showed his strength by choking out Camozzi with a standing rear naked choke.
“I think I hit him on the way in and he hit me,” said Neal. “I was hurt so I was like man, I’ve got to do something quick. I saw his neck, grabbed it and that was a wrap.”
Neal used sheer strength to force the tap out as he didn’t even get his hook in before attempting the choke.
“I knew he was going to tap,” said Neal. “I’m too strong. If he would have moved, I would have put my hooks in. He was kind of screwed at that point.”
Neal looked like he belonged at the highest stage of MMA and certainly this win will get the attention of the UFC brass and get him back on a fight card soon.
“I felt comfortable and at home when I walked out there. My whole goal was to keep the nerves away and focus on the fight – not think of my family and friends out here. It felt great being out there tonight. I got to get in and get out. I wasn’t expecting a submission, but I saw the opportunity and I took it. As soon as I heal up, I’m ready to go again.”
Neal shared the stage with several other Texas fighters that protected their home field.
In the early prelims aired on UFC Fight Pass, Alex Morono of Houston earned a win over Joshua Burkman with a guillotine submission in the welterweight division.
Another Houston native, Roberto Sanchez pulled off a first-round submission of Joby Sanchez in the first round of their flyweight contest to put the Texans at 2-0.
Neal’s win and a knockout win by Pharr’s Diego Ferreira at lightweight put the Texas count to 4-0 heading into the main card.
The train continued to roll with a unanimous decision for “Super” Sage Northcutt of Katy over France’s Thibault Gouti in the lightweight division.
Texas suffered its first loss of the night when Steven Peterson of Dallas lost a unanimous decision to Brandon Davis of Mississippi.
In the primetime matchups, newcomer Curtis Millender of California earned a second-round knockout of UFC veteran Thiago Alves in a welterweight clash.
Fort Worth’s James Vick then won a unanimous decision over Brazil’s Fransisco Trinaldo in their lightweight showdown.
In the co-main event, Houston’s Derrick Lewis fought back from a compromising position to earn a third-round knockout of Poland’s Marcin Tybura in the heavyweight division for his fourth-straight win.
“I just knew not to give up,” said Lewis. “My time was going to come all I needed to do was touch him one time. That’s just the way it is. It felt real good fighting in Texas. I hope to get it on hopefully this year with Francis Ngannou.
“If not it’s fine, then hopefully I get Blaydes or Fabricio next. I’m coming to take that number one spot for sure.”
Texas transplant “Cowboy” Donald Cerrone closed out the night with a much-needed win over Yancy Medeiros in the welterweight division.
Coming off the first three-fight losing streak of his career, New Mexico’s Cowboy earned a first-round knockout of Medeiros to get back in the win column where he is now tied with the most wins in UFC history with legends George St. Pierre and Michael Bisping at 20 each.
“I knew he was going to stand up and bring it,” said Cowboy. “I’m a little more upset my grandmother gets more cheers than I do. Grandmas man, everyone loves them. I just bit down and said ‘let’s go.’ I didn’t even know it was ten seconds I was just going home for the finish.
“I think I just tied the most wins in UFC history. They call me I say ‘where are we going, where are we next?’”
The fight of the night went to Peterson and Davis while Lewis and Millender earned the performances of the night.
More than 10,500 attended the fight with a gate take of $794, 350.