Not much about heavyweight prospect Robert Neal’s career has been conventional.
Coming from a gym where he was the only MMA fighter, to turning pro because of smack talk, to managing himself, Neal’s path has been unique, but effective thus far.
Speaking to MMAWeekly.com the week prior to his bout in V3 Fights, Neal spoke about his unique circumstances and what a win this Saturday night can do for his career moving forward.
MMAWeekly.com: Firstly, Robert, tell us about turning pro in 2012 and how your career has gone so far.
Robert Neal: I never thought I was going to turn pro. They kept on giving me bigger (amateur) fights and I won a couple of amateur belts. I couldn’t find any fights for a year and a half, but then some guy said he was better than me, and it was a pro fight, so I took it and that’s how I turned pro.
My career has gone slow. I manage myself. Whoever they put in front of me, that’s who I fight, because that’s what fighters do. It’s not a big list of names, but I do have one UFC vet (in Mike Wessel) on there. I have one loss, but hiccups happen. Really I go in there and surprise people with what I can do. Whenever they say they have a fight for me – I fight.
MMAWeekly.com: You mention managing yourself. Is that something you actively choose to do or is it just how things have worked out?
Robert Neal: I really want management, but as far as every one that I’ve had, they consider themselves managers, but they’re not. They only manage certain people that go to the gyms that (the managers) want them to.
I’ve never really met a manager that I would invite over to my house to eat. If you’re going to put your career in someone’s hands, you should feel like they’re family and they should be able to come over to your house to eat.
MMAWeekly.com: Your next fight is against Bellator and ONE FC veteran Tony Johnson at V3 Fights on Saturday in Nashville, Tenn. Tell us your thoughts on facing him and what you feel you have to do to get the win.
Robert Neal: This guy right here, he’s a big fish. He’s the one name that everyone avoids. I’m honored they want me to fight him. They might think I’m a pushover, but obviously not since some people actually think I’m going to win the fight. I actually know I’m going to win the fight.
He trains at one of the best gyms in the world (in AKA) with the best training partners, but everyone can be beat on any given date. He says he’s going to stand and box with me, but I wouldn’t recommend that to anybody because of the dexterity I have. So if he tries to stand and box with me, I’ll probably kick him in the face.
I can see him trying to come in, and knowing me and my speed, getting a hold of him and actually knocking him out. I want to knock him out in the first round, because I don’t like getting all those bumps and bruises and looking ugly for work.
MMAWeekly.com: What do you feel like a win over Tony can do for your career as you move forward?
Robert Neal: Really, I don’t know what it will do for my career. It will put me one step above him, but until I actually get the call from (UFC matchmaker) Joe Silva or somebody like that, I really don’t worry about it.
I fight to fight and I want to be one of the best fighters on the planet. I know fighting and getting the money can help me get into better gyms and everything like that. So to me, this is one more fight, one more step to get to whoever has the (UFC) belt when I get there.