On Friday, December 7, lightweight Nick Newell will face former Bellator fighter Eric Reynolds for the XFC lightweight title in the main even of XFC 21: Night of Champions II. It will be his first title shot as a mixed martial artist.
This fight isn't the first major challenge that Newell has faced in his life. He has lived his entire life without most of his left arm due to a congenital defect. If that wasn't enough of a challenge, Newell was born naturally left-handed, and has had to learn how to be right-hand dominant in addition to other adjustments. Fortunately, his mother, Stacy, was there for him every step of the way to push him.
"I was tough, but she made me tough," Newell said. "She wouldn't baby me. She never tried to make it so that I wouldn't go out there. She encouraged me to go outside and get dirty and be a regular boy just like everybody else. And she was always tough on me. If I came home with a boo-boo, she would be like, 'Oh toughen up, don't be a baby.'"
Thanks to his mother's support, Newell got involved with sports at a young age. He started off by taking karate lessons and playing soccer. In second grade, he started playing baseball. Finally, when he got to high school, he joined the wrestling team. One would think that it would be difficult for Newell to play multiple sports with only one arm, but he proved more than capable of meeting the challenge.
"For me, it's natural," Newell said. "In baseball, I had to make adjustments. I would catch a ball, take my glove off, and throw, but I was always pretty quick and accurate. So I was able to adapt pretty well. And with wrestling, I have to shoot in a little more closely, and my shots have to be better than other people's shots. I know that I had a little bit of a disadvantage right there, but I was willing to work harder so I could compete with everybody else."
Even after college, Newell's competitive fire was still burning, so he decided to make the transition to mixed martial arts, and he hasn't looked back.
"I love mixed martial arts," Newell said. "I enjoy the learning aspect of it. I try to keep an open mind and learn something new every day. When I go out there, I don't want to leave a loser. I never want to finish in second place. That's how I am. I'm going to go out fired up with the desire to win every single time, no matter what."
Newell's passion for MMA has helped him get past some of the frustrations that come with the sport. For example, he never had a problem finding opponents as an amateur fighter. However, once he turned pro and started winning fights, Newell struggled to find opponents.
There were multiple occasions when he had a fight canceled because the opponent didn't show up for weigh-ins. Newell isn't sure whether or not the stigma of losing to a one-armed fighter is the main factor or if it's simply because he was beating everyone he faced.
Fortunately, Newell took control of his own destiny when he went to the XFC Open Fighter Tryouts in January 2010. Newell did well enough to impress the XFC, and the fledgling MMA organization gave him the opportunity he was looking for.
Three years later, Newell is 8-0 and facing one of the top fighters in the XFC's lightweight division, Eric Reynolds, for the vacant lightweight title. Win or lose, he believes that he still has at least 10 years left in MMA.
However, fighting isn't his only goal. Newell understands that his road to MMA stardom has been inspirational, and he wants to use his story to help others.
"Recently, I've gotten into speaking and helping other people, especially with confidence issues," Newell said. "A lot of people in similar situations really get down on themselves and don't believe in themselves. Even people with two hands get down on themselves, so it's about positive thinking."
Given his track record for overcoming the odds, Newell shouldn't have any problem inspiring others to overcome their issues. With his determination to succeed, beating Reynolds for the XFC lightweight title wouldn't shock anyone. Newell is an overcomer, and that's what he expects to do once again on December 7 at XFC 21.
Derek Ciapala is a Yahoo! Featured Contributor for MMA. He has been published on GatewayMMA.com, UltimateApocalypse.com and multiple other websites. You can check him out on Facebook or on Twitter @dciapala.