Bellator lightweight Nick Newell returns this Friday, in familiar territory in Connecticut at the Mohegan Sun Arena. Bellator 241 marks Newell’s third fight with the promotion, where he found a home after a shot on the Contender Series didn’t go his way.
Fight fans have been championing for Newell to land in a major promotion for years. He was a staple on the regional scene, and eventually worked his way to the WSOF, where he went as far as challenging Justin Gaethje for that promotion’s lightweight title.
The UFC was hesitant though. Mainly because Newell, who was born a congenital amputee, is a fighter with one hand. But while that may make fighting hard (no doubt an understatement), it hasn’t stopped him from compiling an impressive 16-3 record to date.
Speaking with Cageside Press ahead of Bellator 241, Newell spoke highly of his new home. “I’m a very honest person, I’m very up front about the things I do,” he told us. “I’m just up front with people, and they’re good to me. Bellator, everything I’ve asked for I’ve gotten. The push I’ve gotten, the press I’ve gotten, the things I’m getting are what every fighter would want. It’s good.”
He doesn’t seem to have lost any sleep over his shot on the Contender Series, either. When it was suggested that things might have worked out for the best, as Bellator has pushed Newell in a way the UFC appeared reluctant to, Newell replied that “I think in terms of the whole Contender Series thing, I think they gave me the best guy they could find, and put the two best guys on the show against each other. It was a good close fight, but it wasn’t my night, and that was that! I went and I fought and I won, I went to Bellator and I fought and I won. I’m not perfect, I’m not a perfect human, the only thing I can promise is that every time I step out there, I will lay it all out on the line. And that’s what I did, Bellator was impressed, and here we are.”
Bellator is a promotion that allows a little more freedom — in terms of sponsors, in terms of entrances, and everything else. Newell isn’t concerned about the entertainment factor however. “I don’t even think about the walkouts. I guess you’re a showman at the end of the day, but when it comes to the walkout, I’m just thinking about whupping this guy’s ass,” he said.
Newell fought his way into Bellator by defeating Corey Browning by submission at Bellator 225. He fell short in his next fight, however, suffering a decision loss to Manny Muro at Bellator 232 in October. While not making any excuses for the loss, Newell did recognize that something had to change after the Muro fight.
“I had to change some things with my preparation with that fight. It was my third fight in five months, and I burnt myself out,” he explained. It wasn’t just the frequency of fights that wore on Newell. He was also in the process of moving his gym, teaching classes, and most important of all, being a father.
“I needed a break. I needed to rest. Rest my body. So that’s exactly what I did. I took some time, and I figured out a schedule that worked for me.” He also hired on more hands at his gym, and got his family on board to take some of the pressure off. “My wife is busting her ass right now. She’s pregnant, and she’s working full time, and taking care of my son, and putting him to sleep. She’s like a rock star, and I’m just doing everything I can to win this fight.”
“Only people that have kids can really tell you how hard it actually is. But I’m ready. I figured it out. I’m good to go,” he added.
While some fighters have found fresh inspiration in becoming a parent, Newell has never lacked in terms of motivation. “I’ve always really wanted to win,” he said. What fatherhood has brought, rather, has been “more responsibility. So I just had to get better managing my time. If anything, my time management skills improved. It helps get rid of the distractions and stuff like that. I don’t really hang out with my friends anymore.”
That’s a common refrain from parents everywhere. Now imagine doing it while running a gym, and having a career as a fighter. “It’s okay, that’s growing up. That’s being responsible,” Newell observed. “Being the best father, it’s very important to me to dominate, and be really successful at everything I do. So fighting, fatherhood, all the things. You want your son to grow up to be contributing member of society, be a good person with good moral character. I’m always trying to educate him and grow him as a person, and give him the attention he needs to grow up and be a great human being.”
Newell’s competitive nature runs strong, and it’s something that has been with him his whole life, he said. “I’m just competitive. I was a camp counselor as my first job, and I wouldn’t even let the kids win at kickball. It’s just the type of person I am.”
Zach Zane will get to witness that first hand at Bellator 241. Newell described his upcoming opponent as “scrappy” and “tough.” He’s watched the tape. And he remains confident. “If I fight the way I fight, and I show up in good condition, which I am — I’m in great condition, I’m getting the rest I need, I’m doing all the things I need — no one can beat me. I’m super confident in that.”
“It’s more about me than it is about him,” Newell would go on to say.
Fight fans love an underdog story, and Newell fits the bill. He’s unique in the sport of MMA, and no doubt an inspiration to many. The New England native, however, has never sought that role out. He just does what he does. “I don’t ever really think about inspiring people, to be honest with you,” Newell admitted. “People ask me that all the time. I’m just myself, and I just try to be a good person. Because that’s what you should do.”
He’s careful not to be a fake person. Not interested in being an influencer. “That’s corny to me,” he said. “I’m myself. When you see me out there, that’s 100% me. If I choose to be nice to people, that’s just because it’s the type of person I am. Or if people find inspiration from me working hard and not letting things stop me, then that makes me feel really good about myself. But I would be doing the same stuff if no one was watching.”
Bellator 241 goes down this Friday, March 13 at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, CT. The card airs live on DAZN.