Nick Newell missed out on one UFC opportunity. He doesn’t expect it to be the last.
With much fanfare, Newell made an appearance on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series last July with the same understanding as all the other competitors on that show: Win an impressive fashion and a UFC contract is yours. That chance is all Newell was asking for.
A lightweight veteran with experience in the World Series of Fighting and Legacy Fighting Alliance promotions, it shouldn’t have been such a winding path for for Newell, but as a congenital amputee (Newell’s left arm is shortened at the elbow) with a well-documented story, there were complications with him getting the call to walk to the Octagon. After Newell’s Contender Series outing ended with him losing a unanimous decision to Alex Munoz, UFC president Dana White reiterated concerns he’d had about Newell potentially fighting in the UFC due to his handicap.
Newell is set to return to action on Friday, when he fights Antonio Castillo Jr. at CES 56 in Hartford, Conn. It’s potentially the first step towards earning another crack at the UFC, something his Fighting Arts Academy coach Jeremy Libiszewski believes will happen soon.
“Oh he’s definitely going to win, you’ll be seeing him in [the] UFC in 5-6 months,” Libiszewski recently told Massachusetts’s WWLP.com.
In an interview with MMA Fighting, Newell was asked about his coach’s assessment in regards to finding a spot in the UFC roster and he was in agreement that it could happen soon.
“I definitely think that I will be,” Newell said. “And I think that in this fight I’m going to show that I belong. I felt like my last fight, the only thing I really lost on was control. I showed my striking, I showed my submission game, and I just lost the control portion. So that’s something that I’m going to fix and it’s not gonna happen again.
“I’m ready to get there, get the big call from one of these—I want big fights, I’m 33 years old, so I’m in my prime and I want the big fights. To me, fighting in Connecticut, this is a big fight to me and the one after this I want to be even bigger.”
Before losing to Munoz, Newell’s only loss in his first 14 pro bouts was to current UFC lightweight standout Justin Gaethje. He bounced back with three straight wins, but until the Contender Series was conceived, it didn’t look like there was a way for Newell to prove that he belonged in the UFC without the company outright signing him, which White was reluctant to do.
He’s determined to earn that contract, no matter what the circumstances, even if it’s a short-notice call. However, as far as he’s concerned, it’s his responsibility to make that happen, not the UFC’s.
“If they were to call me up and be like, ‘Hey, we need you to be ready,’ I’ll show up,” Newell said. “But I never thought anything was owed to me, especially coming off a loss. I’m not going to complain or anything. I’m just going to make a statement this fight, it’s my main focus and the thing that I care most about is just showing how good I am and how talented I am, that I belong.”
Since his last fight, Newell became a first-time dad and he’s been juggling fatherhood along with training and running his own FAA gym in Connecticut. He praised his wife Danielle and his mother-in-law for helping to make that balancing act possible.
Newell took little time off after his child arrived in December, the Munoz lost still lingering. What particularly stung was that Newell was out-wrestled, an area of fighting in which he typically excelled. He’s gone back to the lab to shore up his weaknesses there, putting in time with John Clark, a two-time NCAA All-American at Ohio State who is now the wrestling coach at Sacred Heart University.
The immediate goal is to dispense of Castillo at CES 56 (which will air live on UFC Fight Pass) and do so in definitive fashion to remind everyone that his in-cage success is just as important as the adversity he’s had to overcome to achieve that success. After that, he still has about six months to follow up on his UFC guarantee.
“My last fight left a bad taste in my mouth,” Newell said. “It’s not like I’ve stopped training. I’ve been training ever since and I’ve added some new people to my team and made some adjustments to make sure to avoid anything like that happening again. Anything can happen-probably it’s been 10 months since my last fight so I’m ready to get back in there. I’m ready to show how good I am. I know that I’m elite, I know that I have what it takes to beat anyone on a given day.
“And I just have to prove it. You can say it, but if you don’t prove it, it doesn’t mean anything.”