Nick Newell loses out on UFC contract but his story is that of a winner

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist
Nick Newell was born without a left hand, but that hasn’t stopped him from climbing the ranks of the MMA world. (AP)

The fairytale did not unfold. Nick Newell did not get a contract.

The 32-year-old from Springfield, Massachusetts, had won 14 of his first 15 professional fights and had impressed everyone who had seen him fight. But despite his great record and obvious talent, Newell wasn’t in the UFC, primarily because he was born without a left hand.

He is what is known as a congenital amputee and was born with a left arm that ends just below his elbow. Much like he once said there was no way women would fight for his company, UFC president Dana White declined to sign Newell because of his lack of a left hand.

But when prominent fight manager Ali Abdel-Aziz arranged a meeting in Las Vegas between White and Newell, Newell at least got his shot. White declined to outright give Newell a contract; rather, he gave him a spot on the “Dana White Tuesday Night Contender Series,” a web show held weekly during the summer in which fighters compete in front of White with the hope of landing a UFC contract.

The UFC clearly understood what Newell brought to the table. It put him in the main event of the five-bout show Tuesday, and there were ads on UFC.com reminding fans to “Watch Nick Newell” in the show. Had Newell won, and looked good in earning a contract, it’s safe to say his first official UFC bout would have been a circus and attracted worldwide attention.

Alas, it was not to be.

Newell fought former Oklahoma State wrestler Alex Munoz on Tuesday in the main event of a show which saw an amazingly good featherweight battle between Sodiq Yusuff and Mike Davis.

Newell didn’t, however, get the contract.

It wasn’t because of his left arm, though. Newell proved he could handle himself against a world-class fighter.

Newell didn’t make it because, on this night at least, he wasn’t good enough.

Munoz won a unanimous decision, 30-27 on all three cards, in what would have been a ho-hum, forget-about-it-type of fight were it not for the drama created by Newell fighting for his professional life.

Newell wasn’t out of place and at one point in the third round, he cinched a guillotine in and it looked like he might get the walk-off home run he needed at that point.

Munoz, though, made a relatively routine escape and cruised to a clear and easy decision.

Newell showed he had the ability to fight in the UFC. Given his performance on Tuesday, it’s probably fair to say he would never have been a real factor at the top level of the loaded lightweight division.

He didn’t look out of place. He didn’t on Tuesday have the explosion he’s shown in other fights; something was just off. Munoz was the perfect opponent for him in a lot of ways. Munoz entered the bout with a 4-0 mark, but hadn’t fought since Nov. 19, 2016.

Munoz didn’t have great striking or any overwhelming offensive weapon. Newell was a collegiate wrestler also, and had shown good submission skills in his first 15 pro bouts. He won nine of those by submission and three by knockout, so he had the offense it takes to get a contract on the Contender Series.

Nothing happened, though. The spark didn’t go off. Even the great Mike Trout went 0 for 6 on Opening Day this year. Sports is humbling to even the greatest athlete. What makes the Trouts of the world so remarkable is their ability to do it night after night, year after year, and shake off the occasional bad night.

Newell is 32 and only had one fight himself in about the last three years. After a Oct. 17, 2015, victory over Tom Marcellino, Newell retired, only to come back with a first-round submission of Sonny Luque.

He wasn’t trying to prove anything to anybody and has repeatedly said he was fighting only because he wanted to do so. But making it to the sport’s pinnacle would have been a boon to people who, for one reason or another, had been deemed not good enough.

Like it or not, Newell carried the burden of all those who had been pushed aside, laughed at, dismissed out of hand.

He lost Tuesday, but he didn’t fail. He got the chance to fight for his spot in the UFC. This is a guy who had an entertaining 2014 match with Justin Gaethje, who is now one of the UFC’s most popular fighters.

He showed long before the “Dana White Tuesday Night Contender Series” that he was among the best mixed martial arts fighters in the world.

He just won’t get the chance to regularly prove that on the MMA world’s biggest stage.

Newell made it and gave a good account of himself. He didn’t look out of place. He didn’t look like a guy who got a shot because White took pity on him or owed someone a favor.

He lost, but he showed he’s a winner.

Yusuff, Jim Crute and Jeff Hughes got the UFC contracts, and 18-year-old Chase Hooper was given a developmental deal.

Newell will be left to figure out his future.

One thing is for certain, though: Newell’s lack of a left hand isn’t what kept him out of the UFC. And in the big picture, that’s really the biggest news of all.

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