MMA's Nick Newell on his career, his inspirations and his fans
Here are the key numbers you need to know about lightweight fighter Nick Newell: Nine wins, zero losses, and one arm that ends below his left elbow. In his nearly four year career as a professional mixed martial artist, the Milford, Conn. native has waged some of his toughest fights against athletic commissions reluctant to license him, opponents resistant to fight him, and nonbelievers hesitant to believe the congenital amputee has what it takes to excel on the sports biggest stages. After claiming the XFC lightweight title last December, Newell, 27, will make his World Series of Fighting debut Saturday night in a bout against Keon Caldwell (NBCSports10:30 pm/EDT) in Ontario, Calif. He tells SI.com about some of the struggles—and successes—thus far in his career. Some answers have been edited for clarity.
SI: Are there any advantages in the cage to your congenital amputation?
Newell: It's harder to grab my arm but it's harder for me to grab and it's harder for you to grab me, so it cancels each other out. There's nothing outstanding.
SI: You'd just won the XFC lightweight title in December and then left the promotion. Why did you feel it was so important to move on from XFC to the World Series of Fighting?
Newell: The challenge involved. It's a bigger stage and they have a lot of the best fighters in the world. To really raise my stock I'm going to need to fight those guys and test myself on that big stage.
SI: In late December, UFC President Dana White said getting into the UFC was tough enough with two arms, much less one. You've expressed a desire to fight in the UFC. What was your reaction when you heard his comments?
Newell: I don't know. He knew who I was. He'd seen me. I almost made it on The Ultimate Fighter. It doesn't really hold much weight to me. It hurt me that someone who people take so seriously as such a big figure would say something like that. But I'm in a very happy place right now with World Series of Fighting. I couldn't be happier than where I'm at. They're taking me based on my fighting skill, and not based on the way I was born. I'm getting everything I could ask for.
SI: Have you ever wanted to quit?
Newell: It was tough when I was working a fulltime job. I was a master control operator, just making sure that the broadcasts of the History Channel went smoothly. That was from the beginning of 2008 to the end of 2011. I used to drive three hours a day from my home in Monroe, Conn., to work in Stamford, to train in North Haven and back to Monroe. As soon as I got home, I crashed. I slept for not enough time before I was up again going back to work, then going back to the gym. I would train for three or four hours a day, I worked for eight and would be driving for three. But I love fighting. I love the competition. I love everything about it. It's such a great sport. And you get to test yourself and you have to push yourself and push yourself to the physical limit. You're learning something every single day. And the bond you have with your teammates? I can't just come home from work, sit down and watch TV. That's not the type of person I am. Especially when I had a job when I was watching TV all day. It made me want to go out and do something when I got out.
SI: You're often cited as an inspiration to others. Who inspires you?
Newell: When I was a kid, I wanted to meet Jim Abbott [the one-armed Major League Baseball pitcher] and I met him. He signed a baseball for me and I was back on my way. But it kind of struck me how nice he was and how much I looked up to this guy. So if little kids want to meet me, I'm very open to it. If I can help inspire someone to do something, then yeah, go ahead. If you're a fan of me, I'm a fan of you.
I've had a family that's inspired me to do great things. I had a lot of influence from my mother, [Stacey] who's a very tough woman. I watched the documentary on the guy Terry Fox who ran across Canada. I thought was pretty cool, pretty inspiring. Before I first fought, I saw there was a kickboxer, Baxter Humby, I was like, 'Wow, this guy kicks ass and he's got one hand and he's a kickboxer. I can do this in MMA.'
SI: You probably hear a lot of personal stories from fans. What do they tell you?
Newell: Everyday I get a story that's very inspiring. Or a story like, maybe this person had trouble, my kid is like this, and I saw you and told them they can do anything. I think that's pretty cool. That's not why I got into it. I just started doing it because it was something that was fun. But [inspiring people] is a little added perk.