Nick Newell is not used to losing. Not when he wrestled in high school and college. And definitely not in MMA, where he began his career a perfect 10-0.
Newell got hit with the first loss on his record against Justin Gaethje in the main event of World Series of Fighting 11 in July. All he's wanted since then is another opportunity to get back in the cage, prove himself and erase the memory of the loss. If Newell had his way, he would have returned long before now and he still doesn't have a fight booked.
"The thing I care about now most -- more than anything -- is I just want to fight," Newell told MMA Fighting. "It's not sitting well in my stomach this last fight. I'm ready to just show the real me and make a statement."
So where has Newell, the popular WSOF lightweight, been the last five months? It's complicated.
Newell has just one fight left on his World Series of Fighting contract and that deal, he said, is about to expire. WSOF matchmaker Ali Abdel-Aziz told MMA Fighting that he has been locked in negotiations with Newell's manager Angelo Bodetti about extending him and it's currently "in a stalemate."
Abdel-Aziz said he usually likes to ink a new contract with a fighter who only has one bout left on his current deal. He's looking to bring Newell back on a three- or four-fight contract. The hangup, Abdel-Aziz said, is financial, but it also has to do with the direction the promotion wants to take Newell. Abdel-Aziz wants to build him back up after the lightweight title loss to Gaethje, whereas Newell wants to fight the best WSOF has to offer, someone like Gesias "JZ" Cavalcante.
"He's an expensive guy," Abdel-Aziz said. "And to be honest with you, I want to give him a fight to get back on track and normally when you have one fight left on your contract, a promoter gives you a fight you can lose. I don't want to play this game with Nick."
Newell, 28, is a draw for WSOF, one of the organization's biggest. He's charismatic, exciting in the cage and has a story of incredible perseverance that connects with the mainstream audience. Newell is a congenital amputee, born without a left hand. His left arm ends just past his elbow. Yet, he's been able to excel in a sport like MMA that is incredibly difficult, even if you have both hands to work with.
It's no coincidence that Newell headlined World Series of Fighting's debut on NBC. Normally the promotion's shows air on NBC Sports Network, but Newell's July bout with Gaethje was the main event on broadcast television. That was more because of Newell's star power than Gaethje, regardless of the result of the fight and Gaethje being one of the best lightweights in the world outside the UFC.
Newell (11-1) will likely have significant interest from outside organizations if his WSOF contract expires. And Newell said he is willing to listen. The Connecticut native just bought his own condo, moving out of his mother's home. Making money through fighting and providing for himself is a top priority.
"Right now, I just want to stay active," Newell said. "I want to fight like five times a year. I know that's probably not going to happen, but whatever. I want to go wherever I can make the most money, too. That's definitely a motivating factor. Obviously, the UFC is a great opportunity to make that and prove how good I am, too. Anywhere they have elite competition and I can get paid well is cool."
Newell has nothing bad to say about WSOF other than he wishes the company would get him a fight already. While the UFC and Bellator would surely be attractive options if he becomes a free agent, Newell has been disenfranchised by the UFC in the past.
"I tried to get in when I was 9-0 with eight first-round finishes and some big wins and they said no," Newell said. "Then they let guys with 1-1 records in there. It makes no f*cking sense to me. Being in the UFC is not as cool as it used to be if they're just letting anyone in. I don't know what the deal is. It's like you think you can win all these fights and they'll let you in. They just have to like you and I'm not gonna beg for anyone that didn't see anything in me to hire me and give me a fight. WSOF wanted me and that's where I went and that's where I've been. I'm not bitter."
It's Abdel-Aziz's desire to get Newell some wins under his belt for another push to the top of the card. But if Newell isn't going to be fighting top guys in headline fights for WSOF, Abdel-Aziz doesn't want to give Newell as much money as his management is asking.
"If I match him up to rebuild him, most likely I'm going to give him a good fight," Abdel-Aziz said. "He'll have a chance to win. It has to make business sense for both of us. If I was his management, you've gotta be smart. I would get Nick Newell to three wins or two wins and after that, he'll start making his money back again.
"To fight for more money, you've gotta fight top guys. You can't fight lower-tier guys. You have to have a strategy to build your brand back up."
Abdel-Aziz believes Newell will lose his drawing power if he gets the wrong matchup next and doesn't come out on top.
"If I give Nick Newell a fight and he loses again, there's not going to be too many people that care about Nick Newell," he said. "But if Nick Newell gets two, three wins, people are gonna be like, 'Wow, I want to see Nick Newell fight again.'"
Newell stays hands off with negotiations and lets Bodetti take care of everything. The only thing on his mind is getting back into the cage and making everyone -- himself included -- forget about that TKO loss to Gaethje. Because he is a congenital amputee, critics have already said he should quit MMA now because he was finished with strikes last time out.
"I kind of got myself ready for this a while ago," Newell said. "Obviously, as soon as I lose people are going to say, 'Oh he shouldn't fight anymore, that's bad. I can't believe that.' I didn't know I'm the only fighter that's not allowed to lose a fight. I'm sorry, I guess. But it happens. Everyone loses. No one is perfect. I'm far from perfect, but I'm more than capable.
"I've already proven myself beyond a shadow of a doubt that I'm worthy and I'll have a good fight with anyone in the world. I think I'm one of the best in the world. My last fight, it wasn't a good day. I'm trying to get to the point where even if I have a bad day, I can beat anyone. It's a work in progress."
So where does he go from here? That's unclear. Abdel-Aziz is adamant his strategy -- growing Newell's brand again slowly -- "makes sense for both of us." Newell, meanwhile, is ready for anyone at 155 on the planet.
"People are always going to say things and people are always going to try and tell me how to live my life," Newell said. "It's been that way my whole life. And I didn't get where I am by listening to people say I can't or shouldn't."