There are only a handful of people in MMA that I never heard a bad word about, and Nick Newell is on that short, short list. I remember the first time I ever heard about him, now five years ago or more. In addition to being an utterly cool guy, and an undefeated professional fighter, Nick has one arm partially missing, since birth.
It is inevitable that at first he would be known as that fighter with one arm. However, as his undefeated string extends, like all champions, he wants to be known just as a good fighter.
Ben Fowlkes caught up with Newell, who opened up on the subject.
"It's easier for me to get attention, but it's harder to get respect," said Newell.
But as Newell prepares to fight Eric Reynolds for the XFC lightweight title in Nashville on Friday (AXS TV, 10 p.m. ET), there's hope that this bout transforms him from curiosity to contender.
Newell's coach, Jeremy Libiszewski, of Fighting Arts Academy in Springfield, Mass., insists Reynolds will be the first real test Newell has faced since turning pro in 2009.
"They're fighting for a title for a reason," Libiszewski says.
It's nice to be an inspirational story just for showing up and trying hard despite a disability, but that's not why Newell got into the sport in the first place.
"My goal when I started was never to be the one-handed fighter," he says. "My goal is to be the best in the world. If you set your goals any lower, you're only cheating yourself."
For most MMA fighters, that means an eventual move to the Ultimate Fighting Championship. And sure, Newell says, he feels he could "absolutely compete with anyone in the UFC."
UFC President Dana White wouldn't rule it out, he says. But at the same time, White notes, "The UFC's tough enough with two arms."
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