It looks like the UFC is all set to open 2023 with a top flight welterweight contest. Shavkat Rakhmonov and Geoff Neal have been circling one another for several weeks now, stretching back to early August—when the Kazakh fighter issued a callout of Neal via Twitter. Something that apparently irked the longtime Fortis MMA talent.
“Right now, I’m not really worried about him,” Neal said of Rakhmonov at the time. “I’m kinda irritated that he just wanted to jump right in. I was like, ‘No, I called somebody out, I’m not talking to you right now.’ But we’ll see.”
Apparently what they saw was a fight booking with the fast rising ‘Nomad.’ MMA Junkie reports that the UFC is well on the way to booking an elite welterweight bout between Neal and Rakhmonov for their first card of 2023.
The former M-1 welterweight champion, Rakhmonov will enter the contest with a perfect 16-0 record, coming off a second round stoppage of Neil Magny at UFC on ESPN Tsarukyan vs. Gamrot. That fight firmly established the 27-year-old as a top ten ranked athlete at 170 lbs within just three fights of his Octagon debut.
For Neal, the path to contention has been a bit longer and more perilous. ‘Handz of Steel’ entered the UFC off Season 1 of the Contender’s Series with a 7-2 record in MMA. He ran out five-straight victories inside the world’s largest MMA promotion, before hitting back-to-back setbacks against Stephen Thompson and Neil Magny. The 32-year-old rebounded from those losses with victories over Santiago Ponzinibbio and Vicente Luque, bringing his overall record to 15-4.
UFC Vegas 67 is set to go down on January 14th at the Apex Facility in Las Vegas, NV. The card is expected to be headlined by a middleweight bout between former TUF winner Kelvin Gastelum and Nassourdine Imavov.
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