A one-armed athlete says he is "ready to make a statement" in his lightweight fight at the Bellator 232 event at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut on Saturday.
Nick Newell was born with congenital amputation of his left arm. Now a 33-year-old wrestler with a record of 16 wins against two losses in MMA, Newell is a submission specialist having won matches with armbars, rear-naked chokes, and guillotine chokes.
Newell signed a four fight deal with Bellator MMA, one of the biggest fight firms in the world, after submitting Corey Browning in the first round of the Bellator 225 event earlier this year.
His future with the company rode entirely on that one fight, and he had to win to earn the deal. But Newell told Business Insider this week that he wasn't even nervous before the show.
"I was cool, calm, collected," he said. "I've had a lot of fights. It was a good moment. It was important to keep my emotions under control. I knew I had a job to do and I went out and got it done. I got a little bit emotional, after but I worked so hard to get here and now to finally be here feels fantastic."
Watch Newell submit Browning here:
—Bellator MMA (@BellatorMMA) October 22, 2019
Newell told us many influential people helped him get to where he is, including his mother. When Newell was younger, he wanted to quit high school wrestling. "She didn't let me and it made a big impact," he said. "My first coach really believed in me even though I wasn't winning and I've just had a strong support system to allow me to become what I am today."
But winning is what Newell is used to. In 18 professional MMA bouts over the last 10 years, Newell has only lost twice — a World Series of Fighting defeat to current UFC lightweight contender Justin Gaethje in 2014 and a decision loss to Alex Munoz in Dana White's Contender Series last year.
Since the Munoz hiccup, he has beaten Antonio Castillo, and then against Browning he was in a make-or-break situation. Defeat would have forced him to consider his future in the game while victory would see him win a deal from Bellator boss Scott Coker.
"[The contract] happened a week after the fight, honestly," Newell said. "I knew they would be interested after this win. I didn't catch [Coker] backstage, I got pulled in a lot of directions."
Newell said the hometown reaction he received afterwards was unique. "Everyone was talking about it."
Coker then called him and gave him the contract. "It was a great thing. I'm happy to be working for him."
Coker told The Athletic that what attracted him to Newell was his "perseverance, his indomitable spirit and ability to overcome any obstacle he's had to deal with in his life."
Coker said he offered him four-fight contract and vowed to give him opportunity to compete at a high level. "He will be a great example of what a Bellator fighter should be," he said.
Newell fights Manny Muro at Bellator 232
Newell returns to Bellator on Saturday, fighting Manny Muro, an athlete who won his only fight with Bellator in 2017 but has lost three of his last four bouts.
All Newell is thinking about is victory, taking fights that will improve his ranking in Bellator's lightweight division, then targeting the Brazilian southpaw Patricio "Pitbull" Freire, the current Bellator lightweight champion.
"I'll get by this guy and work my way up. Muro's tough, a well-rounded fighter but I feel really good. I rolled everything from my last camp over and I feel fantastic and ready to go and make a statement. Obviously, Pitbull [is on my horizon. But, I got to get past Manny Muro first before I talk."
On the pushback he has experienced in the sport of MMA from people like Dana White, who according to Forbes, said in 2018: "If Nick Newell fights in the UFC, first thing they're going to say is, 'How could you let a guy with one arm fight in the UFC? You're an idiot.' I'm saying, what if something bad happened?"
But Newell does not focus on comments like this, instead saying it is time people started worrying about his opponents. "I've done nothing but show that I belong amongst the elite," Newell told Business Insider. "It's not something I care about at this point. It's not something I think about. I've found my home and I'm happy.
"Just watch me fight … judge for yourself."