Light heavyweight Grant Neal brings his perfect record back to Bellator 243 this Friday. In his fourth pro fight, he’s set to throw down with Hamza Salim.
Neal’s record might be deceiving, however. Although just 3-0, he also had a successful run as an amateur, becoming the TUFF Light Heavyweight Champion before turning pro last year.
“I think it was pivotal in my development,” Neal told Cageside Press when asked about his amateur run. “I come from a stable of great fighters and coaches alike that really know how to set you on a path to be the best.”
The idea they had for Neal was that “we’re going to fight you all over for your amateur career,” he explained. And that’s just what they did. “I fought the best guys in my division, the people that didn’t run away from me.”
“I wanted it to be hard, to prepare me for my run as a pro,” Neal added. “The promotions that I fought for, they did a great job in matchmaking, allowing me to fight the best guys.”
Of course, you may notice that one comment, about opponents running. That’s been a trying part of his career. “It’s been extremely difficult. Even in Bellator,” Neal admitted. His first fight with the promotion, he noted, his opponent didn’t even make it into the country.
“It’s quite interesting, but now I’m used to it. So I just go in there, ready to prepare for anything.” But how does one prepare, knowing that an opponent may drop out at any moment?
“At this point in my career, we’re focusing on doing the little things right, and preparing me for a trajectory to be the best in the world,” Neal explained.
“Things are gonna happen, sh*t changes. Everything we know about 2020 tells us that everything can change,” he continued. “We’re not too focused on that, but the biggest thing my grandmother always taught me is ‘control what you can control.’ And what I can control in this game is my preparation and my readiness to fight.”
Another piece of advice came from Neal’s strength and conditioning coach. “You don’t rise to the occasion, you fall to the level of your preparation.”
Out in Colorado, Neal has been working with some of the best gyms in the world. And he was glad to see them come together during the pandemic. The end result was small training sessions. “Which was actual kind of beneficial for all parties,” explained Neal, thanks to extra eyes on each fighter from the coaches, because of the smaller groups.
Neal is not your average fighter for a number of reasons, not just because of his abilities in the cage. Outside fighting, he’s in pre-med, working his way to becoming an orthopedic surgeon. Currently, like students all over the world, he’s waiting to see how and when he’ll be returning to class.
His academic pursuits also give him unique insight into the fight game. “For sure, I definitely take all the knowledge that I gain in schooling and try to apply it to my game, my preparation, my recovery,” said Neal. “It’s pretty interesting, not many universities get an application from a guy paying for med school by being a professional fighter.”
Both Neal’s educational and professional dreams were nearly dashed years ago, however, due to a false allegation of sexual assault. Given the tendency to see mobs on social media rush to judgment these days, it’s important to underscore the fact that the victim in Neal’s case testified that the sex was consensual. However, a third party, a friend who observed a hickey on the alleged victim’s neck, reported the case to Colorado State University–Pueblo. Neal was suspended, despite evidence of Neal’s innocence being pretty glaring.
That led to a lawsuit against the school, and an eventual settlement. Not before Neal’s football dreams were cut short, however.
Given that experience, we asked Grant Neal about the current climate on social media. Where saying the wrong thing can cost you years’ worth of work, frankly your entire career.
“Personally I don’t really agree with cancel culture and things of that nature,” answered Neal. “I think it’s really important asses the situation, understand it, have the information behind each situation rather than open it up for a public ‘trial’ and cancelling people.” As a Christian, he added, “I don’t think Jesus would be too fond of cancel culture. He’d be fond of the contrary, of giving people the opportunity to change.”
Bellator 243 sees Grant Neal take on Hamza Salim this Friday, August 7 at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, CT. The preliminary card airs live on Youtube ahead of the main card, which goes down live on Paramount Network and DAZN.