Nick Newell never had a problem fighting for respect in mixed martial arts.
The 33-year-old lightweight, who was born as a congenital amputee with a left arm that ends just past his elbow, knew he would battle doubts and misconceptions from the start.
After amassing an impressive 14-1 record, with his only career loss a TKO against current UFC contender Justin Gaethje, Newell was offered a shot on Dana White’s Contender Series instead of a contract to fight in the UFC. When Newell came up short that night, losing a hard fought decision to Alex Munoz, his dream to fight in the UFC was effectively dead.
As much as it disappointed Newell not to get the chance to compete inside the world-famous Octagon, he didn’t let the setback linger. He went onto win his next two fights in a row, including a debut for Bellator this past month.
The Viacom-owned promotion inked Newell to a one-fight deal with the aim of capitalizing on his appeal in his home state of Connecticut. He made the most of his opportunity, submitting Corey Browning, who’d previously notched consecutive wins over Aaron Chalmers and Kevin “Baby Slice” Ferguson Jr.
This week, Newell inked a four-fight deal with Bellator to make the promotion his long term home – and he couldn’t be any happier with how it all played out.
“I think (Bellator President) Scott (Coker) saw the value in me,” Newell told MMA Fighting. “Aside from that, I bring a lot of eyes when I fight, and I’m entertaining and I have an interesting story. I am a skilled, legitimate mixed martial artist. I am amongst the elite in the world. Corey Browning fought two other guys they signed and had on long term deals as prospects, and he beat both of them. He went against me and the opposite happened. I won, and I won impressively.
“They saw the value in me. They’ve seen what I’m capable of, and they’ve seen my other fights and the people I’ve beat and the records of the people I’ve beat. I haven’t been beating guys with sh-tty records. I’ve been beating guys with good, winning records. I’ve been doing so impressively.”
Newell fought an uphill battle to get the UFC’s attention after White scoffed at the idea of signing him. Even after agreeing to bring Newell onto the Contender Series, White cast doubt on the new signee’s long-term prospects in the UFC.
“If anything ever happened to Nick Newell, if Nick Newell fights in the UFC, first thing they’re going to say is, ‘How could you let a guy with one arm fight in the UFC? You’re an idiot,’” White said last year. “I’m saying, what if something bad happened?
“‘Aren’t you guys supposed to be the best? All the best fighters in the world are in the UFC. So you’re going to throw a guy with one arm, fighting guys with two arms?’ You know what I’m saying. You guys know how to be negative. You know the negative stuff will happen if something bad happened. Might even be some of you to write it.”
Signing with Bellator, Newell had a much different feeling than when he was pursuing a deal with the UFC, and that meant a lot to him as a fighter.
“It felt good to be treated like a human by [Coker] and not just some novelty act that doesn’t belong,” Newell said. “It felt really good to be acknowledged for my skills by what I believe is going to be the No. 1 mixed martial arts organization in the world.
“I think him and Rich (Chou) truly believe in my skills, and I’m ready to go out there and do my thing and be a part of something special in Bellator. I don’t want to go anywhere else. This is where I want to be. This is where I want to fight until I’m done fighting. When I’m done fighting, it will be for Bellator. I’m going to finish out my career with Bellator.”
As of now, Newell hasn’t been booked for his next fight, though he hopes to compete at least one more time this year. While signing with Bellator was a moment worth celebrating, he’s also ready to climb the ranks of the lightweight division.
“My ultimate goal is to work my way towards the title and win the title,” he said. “I’m just going to focus on my next fight – win that fight, and then I’ll go from there. I know I have what it takes.”
The way things have played out, Newell is happy that his journey eventually led him to Bellator, because that’s where he truly believes he’s found a promoter who appreciates him.
Now he’s ready to get to work.
“I feel like I’m at home and everything happens for a reason,” he said. “You win fights and you lose fights. That’s the game. I’ve only lost to guys who are some of the best fighters in the world. If you look at how I did against Justin Gaethje, I did better than his last three opponents in the UFC.
“I think my body of work, and all the 16 people I’ve beaten, that speaks for itself. I’m ready to show my skills on the Bellator stage.”