For something that defines the true self, identity has a peculiar habit of constantly changing. At any given time of any given day, our identities might be completely different depending on the context. We are parents. We are sons and daughters. We are brothers and sisters, friends, lovers, students, teachers and more. Yet, more importantly, these are not separate entities—we are the culmination of these different facets of our lives.

So, who is Nick Newell, and why should you give a damn about him? Well, Newell is an undefeated lightweight fighting for a world title this summer. He has finished 10 out of his 11 fights. And if you didn’t know by now, the dude has one hand.

However, there is much more to Newell than fighting or being born with a congenital amputation. Does he fight for a living? Yes. Does he have one hand? Yes. But if you have a chance to speak with the man, you quickly find many more characteristics you might not hear about in all the talk of him battling adversity.

Newell (WSOF)

Newell (WSOF)

He is witty, and as quick with his words as he is on his feet. He is a son who was always told he could do whatever he wanted, but only if he worked his butt off. He is an intelligent college graduate with hopes of being an entrepreneur. He’s also a pretty funny guy.

“Maybe one day I could be the P. Diddy of MMA,” Newell quipped in an interview with The MMA Corner. “I think probably Urijah Faber’s doing that right now, but maybe that could be me.”

Newell has a smile on his face. He’s joking, but at the same time, you can see the wheels start to turn in his head. He starts thinking about maybe making his own protein powder instead of vodka.

There aren’t many people in the gym right now at Fighting Arts Academy in Springfield, Mass. It’s Newell, a few of his teammates and his coach getting ready for team practice. Newell’s taking his time to get ready, sitting on a bench and joking around with his sparring partners. Business as usual, it seems.

Later this summer, Newell will be challenging Justin Gaethje for the World Series of Fighting lightweight title. However, while there’s certainly enthusiasm for training, there’s no excited buzz. While there’s meticulousness in preparation, there’s no nervous anxiety. The tone is surprisingly calm during this spring evening, only months away from the biggest night of Newell’s life thus far.

It’s, well, normal. The guys rag on each other. They argue about the music being played. Newell professes his love for Scarlett Johansson, and how she loves him too, but she just doesn’t know it yet.

Coach Jeremy Libiszewski tells Newell to hurry up, and get his hand wrap on. “You only have one hand. How does it take you this long?” They laugh. With all the hype and drama surrounding Newell, it’s hard to forget that he’s also a 28-year-old guy who gets ragged on just like anyone else his age with a group of friends. The same way your buddy might pick on you for wearing a trucker hat, that’s the way a coach pokes fun at his student for lollygagging.

The bell for the first round of sparring starts. Playtime is over. Newell doesn’t get any breaks over the next couple hours. Round after round, a fresh fighter comes in to try to make the lightweight contender work. Newell says that this is taking it easy.

Newell also remembers a time where he wasn’t the center of attention. He recalls his first day walking into the gym over five years ago. Coach Libiszewski asked if he wanted to jump in. Newell said yes, and that was it.

“I don’t come from much,” said Newell. “I’ve never been a natural. I’ve never been just good at things. I mean, you look now and you say 11-0, but I actually started my wrestling career 14 years ago, and I had a 2-22 record. I got pinned I think my first 17 matches.”

Newell admits that his early defeats as a youth keep him grounded and appreciative of every moment he’s competing. He remembers losing his first amateur fight and running outside to cry alone in the cold. But, also, his struggles remind him of those people around him who pushed him to keep trying and not to give up.

“I know what it’s like to be the guy counted out. I don’t want to go back there. Hard work got me to where I am, and I know it’s going to get me to where I want to be,” he said.

Those defeats also lit one hell of a fire under his bum. Over Newell’s four-year professional career, all except one of his opponents haven’t been able to make it out of the first round with him.

Newell (center) (Lucas Noonan/WSOF)

Newell (center) (Lucas Noonan/WSOF)

His resiliency in the face of adversity has provided a hero to many children with a congenital amputation, just as Newell looked up to one-handed pitcher Jim Abbott as a kid. Yet, Newell has also found that he has been able to be a positive light for anyone dealing with insecurities. Even though he has had one hand since birth, Newell still recalls times as a child when he wanted to be like everyone else. There was also a time not too long ago when Newell wasn’t looking to be anyone’s role model.

“When I was first coming up, I really didn’t want to be known as the one-handed fighter. I just wanted to be known as a fighter,” admitted Newell. “You’ll never see me saying, ‘Look at me! I got one hand! Check it out, I’m defying adversity!’ It’s not my thing. It’s already been proven that you can overcome obstacles, and there are people long before me who’ve proved it.”

As time went on, though, Newell embraced the spotlight generated by his physical differences. After all, he didn’t have a choice.

“I can’t get away from it,” Newell laughed as he looked down at his left arm. “I’ve got to accept it. It’s whether I want to be known as it or if I don’t. It’s what people identify me as. They’re going to continue to do that, and if you see me fight for the first time, it’s kind of what sticks out. I’ve come to terms with it.”

Although fighting is such a big part of his life and one of his greatest passions, Newell understands that he had a life before and will continue to have a life after fighting. Even while he is in his physical prime, he understands that his same devotion to his passion could have made him a great doctor, lawyer, train conductor or Lego builder.

“I wouldn’t just identify myself as a fighter. I think it’s just a part of what I do,” he said. “I don’t think it’s what defines me. It’s what I love, and I enjoy, but basically, I’m just a guy with a dream that is working hard.”

When you talk to Newell, it doesn’t take long to get inspired. Yes, part of it is the one-hand thing, but it’s also the way he carries himself, the confidence in his voice, the way he looks you in the eye and tells you about his weak moments without any shame. No matter how many hands you were born with or whatever insecurities you might begrudgingly carry along day to day, Newell can teach you something about striving to be the person you want to be and living the life you want to live.

Nick would like to thank Top Secret Nutrition, Quick Clock, Noble Iron, Vanguard MMA, Luck Finn Project, Train Mask, Danny Evans, FAA, Ramos Conditioning Center, and Napoli Deli. Follow Newell on Twitter: @NotoriousNewell

About The Author

Zach Miller
Staff Writer

Zach is a Boston native and has had a fascination with martial arts since playing Mortal Kombat at five years old. He was introduced to MMA after watching The Ultimate Fighter 5: Team Pulver vs. Team Penn. A recent graduate of the University of New Hampshire, Zach seeks to one day become a full-time MMA journalist. In addition to watching the sport, he has also trained in Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu, kickboxing, and tae kwon do. Zach has also written for NortheastMMA.