Geoff Neal has won all five of his fights in the UFC, but the welterweight will face the biggest test of his career on Saturday when he faces No. 5 contender Stephen Thompson in the main event of UFC Fight Night 183 at the Apex facility in Las Vegas.
Sportsbooks see this matchup as a tossup, with both fighters fetching -108 odds at FanDuel Sportsbook as of Friday afternoon.
Thompson Rejects Gatekeeper Role
Thompson (15-4-1) has enjoyed a successful UFC career, even reaching back-to-back title fights against Tyron Woodley in 2016 and 2017. Both of those went to majority decisions: the first ended in a draw, while Woodley took the second.
Since those championship opportunities, Thompson has gone 2-2 in the UFC. He last fought in November 2019, outpointing Vincente Luque to break a two-fight losing streak.
|UFC Fight Night 183 Odds (via FanDuel Sportsbook)|
|Stephen Thompson: -102||Geoff Neal: -116|
|Jose Aldo: -154||Marlon Vera: +130|
|Michel Pereira: -116||Khaos Williams: -102|
|Marlon Moraes: -158||Rob Font: +134|
|Marcin Tybura: +100||Greg Hardy: -118|
The 37-year-old Thompson has expressed fears that the UFC is utilizing him as a gatekeeper: someone who can challenge up-and-coming talent to see if they are ready to be thrown into the title picture. He also envisions a different path for himself if he wins convincingly on Saturday.
“At some point, you gotta put your foot down and say, ‘Hey, let’s go for another title run, UFC,’ and I think with a good win over Geoff Neal, that could be a possibility,” Thompson told MMA Junkie. “Of course I’m not looking past Geoff Neal because he’s super tough, and anything can happen, but if I go out there and have a good win over Geoff Neal, I want somebody in the top five.”
COVID-19 Forces Multiple Fight Night Cancellations
Neal (13-2) has won seven straight fights, including all five of his UFC bouts. He stopped Mike Perry in the first round last December on the UFC 245 undercard, and has been waiting for an opportunity to fight a top-rated opponent and launch himself into the welterweight rankings. He sees himself joining the championship mix sooner rather than later.
“I might have to get one more fight,” Neal told reporters during Thursday’s virtual media day. “Depending on what I do, if I do a spinning backward tornado kick and knock him out, I’ll definitely get a title shot. I think even if it’s a really good fight – I’m thinking I’ll need to win one more and get a title shot. That’s my plan.”
If Neal seeks a spectacular knockout, that could be a challenge against Thompson – though not an insurmountable one. Thompson tends to fight from the outside and defends well, but Anthony Pettis showed that knocking him out is possible. That means Neal could follow suit, and that doing so would show he’s truly worthy of a shot against an elite welterweight next.
Thompson and Neal took the main event spot after the UFC canceled its intended headliner between Leon Edwards and Khamzat Chimaev when Edwards tested positive for COVID-19. In addition, Aiemann Zahabi and Belal Muhammad each tested positive for the coronavirus this week, canceling two more fights — part of a rash of cancellations and changes for the UFC Fight Night 183 card.
Jose Aldo will face Marlon Vera in the co-main event of Saturday’s card. Aldo comes in as a -154 favorite over Vera (+130) in the bantamweight clash.