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Bushwick battler: UFC star got his fighting edge in Brooklyn

True to his roots: Neil Magny, right, credits his childhood in Brooklyn for giving him an edge in the octagon over the years, finding success on the Ultimate Fighting Championship circuit.
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He still considers himself a Brooklyn kid at heart.

Neil Magny grew up in Bushwick, shuffling from apartment to apartment with his mom before the pair left the city in 2002 when he was 15 years old. Magny, 29, will take on Johny Hendrick at UFC 207 on Dec. 30. The pugilist still prides himself on his Brooklyn attitude, more than a decade after he left — it made him the fighter he is today, he said.

“I’m thankful for all of those experiences I had in New York, especially in Brooklyn,” Magny said. “I wouldn’t be the person I am today without it, I wouldn’t be able to deal with the adversity that I have.”

Magny stumbled into his career in the octagon after moving to Chicago with his family. He’d been lifting weights — looking to get stronger before another high-school football season — when he noticed a small group of guys working out in the back corner of the gym.

He met Miguel Torres — a gym owner in Highland, Ind. — and Magny’s interest in mixed martial arts was sparked.

“I went over and talked to him and started doing a couple of classes, and I was hooked,” Magny said. “There’s always so many challenges that come with that, and I embraced all of them. I just kind of went into it head-first.”

Magny never got a chance to fully explore his potential in the sport. He joined the Army, served seven years as a National Guard Sergeant, and then enrolled at Southern Illinois University when he returned stateside.

But he could never quite shake the desire to fight.

Magny went back to Torres, fine-tuned his skills throughout college, and he made his pro debut in 2010, notching a 4–0 record over the next three months. His success drew interest from the reality television series “The Ultimate Fighter,” and Magny knew it was the opportunity he’d been waiting for.

He came up short in the show’s semifinals round, but signed with Ultimate Fighting Championship shortly after, and he made his debut at UFC 157 in 2013 with a unanimous-decision victory over Jon Manley.

“I’ve really come full circle from the guy who started out on the Ultimate Fighter,” Magny said. “It just shows that I’m taking the right steps and in the right position to keep going. I want to be one of the best welterweights in the sport.”

Magny has faced his fair share of ups and downs over the last three years. He notched a seven-fight win streak and then lost at UFC 190 in 2015 before bouncing back with two straight victories.

Now, Magny is coming off a first-round knockout loss to Lorenz Larkin in August’s UFC 202, and he’s looking to turn things around against a former champ. It’s an opportunity Magny doesn’t plan on wasting.

“You sit there and ask yourself what you’re doing it for,” Magny said. “You have to dig down deep inside and think of all the people you’re able to help and everything this sport does and that motivates you to get out of bed.”

Magny’s childhood was far from perfect, but he’s never forgotten where he came from and what fighting has done for him. He bought a house for his mother this year — all paid off — be cause he was determined to make sure she never had to move again.

Now he’s trying to leave his mark on the sport that changed his life.

“It’s a fantastic thing to be a part of,” Magny said. “It just motivates you day in and day out to keep working hard, and having this fight lets me know that I’m doing the right things to get there.”

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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