Lots of kids love the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but Nick Newell wanted to be one. He wanted to be one so badly, in fact, that he struck out on a road that has led him to a perfect 9-0 professional mixed martial arts record and a high-profile bout with Keon Caldwell at World Series of Fighting 4 on Saturday at the Citizens Bank Arena in Ontario, Calif.
“I’m not one to sit around and say, ‘Oh, maybe one day I’ll try something,’” Newell said in an exclusive interview with Sherdog.com. “If I decide to do something, I’m going to do it. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a Ninja Turtle. Now, I want to compete and I want to win.”
The desire to mimic ass-kicking reptiles and the love of professional wrestling motivated an adolescent Newell to join his school’s wrestling team. It was much more than the act of a typical kid summoning enough chutzpah to set aside his video games and challenge himself. Before becoming a wrestling phenom and amassing more than 300 combined victories in high school and college, before capturing the Xtreme Fighting Championships lightweight crown and before emerging as one of the hottest fighters on the World Series of Fighting roster, Newell was born with a congenital condition that caused his left arm to stop developing just below the elbow.
Instead of feeling sorry for himself or using his amputation as an excuse to not fight like one of the Ninja Turtle cartoons of his youth, Newell decided to get to work.
“It doesn’t matter if you have one hand or leg or if you have all your hands and legs,” he said. “Sometimes life’s not fair and you don’t get the same shake as everyone else. You can sit around and complain that the world owes you something, or you can go out there and work harder for the things you want to accomplish.”
This attitude has coalesced within Newell, forming a theme for the way he lives his life.
“I have a habit of leisurely getting into things and then taking it to a whole new level,” he said.
That was how a kid who liked the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and followed World Wrestling Entertainment became a teenager who joined the wrestling team; that was how that same kid started training in MMA because he enjoyed watching “The Ultimate Fighter” with his college roommate, current WWE superstar Curt Hawkins; and that was how an accomplished amateur wrestler, no longer a kid and no longer content with merely training, arrived at the decision to get out and prove he could succeed as a professional prizefighter.
“One of my training partners was going to fight,” Newell said. “I went and I saw the guys there and I thought, ‘I can beat those guys,’ and I started fighting and I started winning.”
Early on, Newell had trouble securing fights.
“On a local level, everyone wants to protect their record,” he said. “They say they can beat anyone in the world, but they don’t want to lose to a guy that has one hand.”
Newell persevered, in his typical style. The bouts grew bigger and the opponents became better, but he kept winning. He was 6-0 when he faced his toughest test to date, defeating Chris Coggins by majority decision at XFC 17 in April 2012; it remains the only fight in Newell’s professional career to last beyond the first round. Next came a first-round knockout of David Mays at XFC 19 and, in December, a first-round submission of Bellator MMA veteran Eric Reynolds at XFC 21.
These days, Newell can be found preparing for his WSOF debut in the place where he started his MMA pursuits -- the Fighting Arts Academy in Springfield, Mass., where he trains under Jeremy Libiszewski. He no longer needs to chase fights.
“I’ve got people calling me out now,” Newell said.
In the once-beaten Caldwell, he confronts an opponent who has rattled off nine wins in his first 10 bouts. The 23-year-old Georgian was a cast member on Season 13 of “The Ultimate Fighter.”
“It’s fun to knock people out,” Newell said, “but I’m learning a smart MMA game. I want him to always be worried about what I’m going to do. I’m going to mix it up and be unpredictable. I expect him to come out [with] guns blazing, but I’m not going to bank on anything. I’m going to come in hard, fast and ready to go.”
Newell is not particularly introspective about the road he has traveled thus far. The obstacles he has faced come with the territory, as far as he is concerned. Any increased pressure that accompanies his growing fame does little to distract him.
“The whole road is hard,” he said, “but for me, it’s not that big a deal because I know it’s what I have to do to get the job done.”