When Nick Newell made his MMA debut back in 2009, it was hard for many observers to discern the line between skill and spectacle.
Four years and 10 wins later, though, the one-handed lightweight has blossomed into a marquee prospect for World Series of Fighting. And in doing so, Newell believes the stigma which once surrounded him has evolved for the better.
"I feel like I'm beginning to be known more for my skill than I am for having one hand, but people are always going to say, ‘Look at that guy, I can't believe it.' So it's a part of who I am," Newell said on a Tuesday conference call.
"It's always going to be like that, and there's always going to be people that have negative things to say or whatever, but I never really paid attention to it growing up. I grew a thick skin and I'm a fighter at the end of the day, and a good one. That's why I'm in World Series of Fighting. I'm here because of what I accomplished and not because of the way I was born."
After a breakthrough 2012 campaign which saw him garner national attention with a run to the XFC lightweight title, the undefeated Newell continued to make strides towards disproving his disbelievers when he submitted ex-TUF 13 contestant Keon Caldwell in just over two minutes for his WSOF debut this past August.
The performance marked the ninth finish of Newell's perfect professional career, all of which have come inside the first round, and once again validated Newell's belief in his abilities, regardless of physical hurdles or outside cynicism.
"I've won a lot of jiu-jitsu tournaments. I tap out good black belts. I think I have a pretty legit ground game, whether someone wants to underestimate me or sleep on me or whatever, that's on them," Newell said.
"I just work hard. I train a lot, and I'm very good at capitalizing on openings. I have a lot of early finishes because I've been able to capitalize on people's first mistakes. I have pretty good instincts, and when I go out there, I don't come to play around and play pattycake."
A 28-year-old finisher out of Canada, Fadai vows to make the most of his unexpected opportunity. Though like all of Newell's opponents, he admits that training to defeat a fighter with one hand has presented its own unique problems.
"A lot of times I'm asked, how do you prepare for a guy with one arm? You really don't," Fadai said. "You can't bring in somebody and tie off their arm, stuff like that. It doesn't work that way. I think he's a tough guy. He uses that arm as an advantage. I'm not taking anything any from him.
"I can't focus on his success. I can't focus on what he's done for himself. I've got to focus on my training. I've got to focus on what I have to go through to beat this guy."
Newell was initially anticipated to meet big show veteran Gesias Cavalcante in a lightweight tournament semifinal, however scheduling conflicts led to the tourney's cancellation and Cavalcante is now booked to rematch the undefeated Justin Gaethje for the inaugural WSOF lightweight championship in early-2014.
For Newell, the chance to defeat a grizzled veteran like Cavalcante would've been an unquestionable feather in the 27-year-old's cap. The much more inexperienced Fadai, on the other hand, is only 10 fights into his professional career, with his biggest win coming October 2012 in MFC, a regional promotion based out of Canada.
Though if Newell is disappointed with the way things played out, he isn't letting it show.
"I just want tough fights, and World Series of Fighting has very tough fighters," Newell said. "I wanted to improve my level of competition. The last league I was in (XFC), I got a lot out of them and they got a lot out of me. It was a very good partnership, but it was time to move on. The guys fighting for the title there are either inexperienced or have .500 records. I wanted to fight tough guys."
"Well you got yourself a real tough fight, sir," Fadai quickly added once Newell finished.
Fighting in his own backyard on the biggest stage of his career, Fadai certainly appeared undaunted by the moment. He vowed repeatedly to spoil Newell's unblemished run once the cage door closes on Saturday, before eventually speaking directly to his one-handed foe.
"Nick, get ready to get hit. It's going to hurt. I'm going to test your heart, so come out swinging," Fadai promised.
"I will, bro. I will. Trust me on that," Newell responded.