Nick Newell is perhaps the most remarkable athlete ever in that he has risen to the highest level of professional MMA with only one arm.
On March 13, "Notorious" Nick Newell (16-3) was scheduled to take on Zach "Gods Warrior" Zane (11-7) at Bellator 241 at Mohegan Sun, Uncasville, Connecticut. Due to the Coronavirus containment effort, the event was cancelled just a few hours before it was scheduled to begin. This was especially disappointing for Newell, who was the home favorite - his FAA training center is just 20 minutes down the road. Bellator still paid the fighters.
This matchup would have been Newell's third Bellator fight, and it would not have been an easy one. Zane has won ten of his last twelve fights going back to June 2017, ending nine of them by stoppage (all but one by submission) and finishing seven of them in the first round. His only two losses in this 33-month stretch were to unbeaten fighters with a combined record of 12-0.
And Still Champion™ is all about overcoming adversity to be your best. No professional MMA fighter has had to overcome more adversity than Newell, who was born March 27, 1986 with congenital amputation of his left arm, which ends just below the elbow.
When Newell was a boy his idol was Yankee pitcher Jim Abbott, who was born without his right hand. While in junior high school, Nick got the opportunity to meet Abbott at Yankee stadium; this inspired Nick to strive to become a major league baseball player in his early teens.
Newell played baseball until high school. He and his boyhood friends enjoyed World Wrestling Entertainment (known as WWF at the time) and they held wrestling matches in their backyard. His playful wrestling experience, combined with his worry that he might be too small to play baseball at a competitive level, motivated Newell to join his high school wrestling team, where he would be matched up with opponents by weight.
Baseball to wrestling was a tough transition for Newell, who lost his first 16 matches. He considered quitting, but his mother persuaded him to continue (“she wouldn’t let me quit,” said Newell). Eventually Newell’s toughness and tenacity won out and he began mastering the sport. And master it he did, going on to win over 300 matches during high school and college.
While in college Newell’s roommate was Brian Myers, who went on to become a WWE superstar under the name “Curt Hawkins”. The two roomies regularly watched the WWE show “Monday Night Raw," and “The Ultimate Fighter” came on right afterward. Newell credits his having watched wrestling and The Ultimate Fighter for prompting his interest in MMA.
At first it was difficult for Newell to find contenders willing to fight him. The general concern was that if they won they would not get credit for defeating a man with only one arm, and if they lost it might be perceived as a bad mark on their fighting resume. Newell quickly overcame this by winning again and again.
On December 7, 2012, after winning his first eight fights without a single loss, “Notorious” Nick Newell – the one-armed fighter – became the Lightweight Champion of Extreme Fighting Championships (XFC 21) by submitting Erik Reynolds by rear naked choke at 1:22 of the first round. Newell never lost the belt to another fighter, although it was taken from him by XFC after Newell declined to renew his contract, opting instead to fight for the World Series Of Fighting. Newell always sought to fight the best fighters on the largest stage and he hoped his move to WSOF would bring him closer to his dream of getting a fighting opportunity for UFC or Bellator.
Newell went on to achieve a record of 11 wins and no losses, finishing 10 of 11 fights; 2 by KO/TKO and 8 by submission. On July 5, 2014, he encountered his first defeat to top-tier fighter Justin Gaethje, who was also 11 wins and no losses at the time (WSOF 11).
Newell won three of his next four fights before finally achieving his dream of getting the opportunity to fight for Bellator, which gave him a one-fight contract to take on up-and-coming Corey Browning on August 24, 2019 (Bellator 225). Notorious won by arm triangle choke at 3:15 of the first round, and Bellator awarded him a four-fight contract. After the fight, Newell’s boyhood hero, former Yankee pitcher Jim Abbott, tweeted, “Well done Notorious Newell. Damn it your just the best. Never give up.” An emotional Newell talked about his feelings after the fight.
October 26, 2019, Newell fought on the main card of Bellator 232 and lost an extremely close fight to Manny Muro. Verdict, a score-keeping tracker, had Newell ahead by two rounds to one at the end of the three-round fight (see image below), but two of three judges saw it the other way. His record now stands at 16 wins, 3 losses, with at least three more Bellator fights ahead of him.
And Still Champion™ is excited to see Newell continuing to live out his dream as a top-ranked Bellator fighter, while he reigns on as the ultimate adversity slayer, and we will be cheering for him on March 13.