From a young age, all of us have dreams about what we want to do when we’re older. It’s often something impossible like being royalty or a superhero but those of us with more realistic aspirations sometimes never give up hope.
Of course, there will always be challenges standing in the way of achieving those dreams. Often the difference between success and failure comes down to a difference in attitude about those challenges. When faced with an obstacle that some said would make his dream impossible, one man refused to be stopped…
From the moment he was born, it was clear that Nick’s life would be a bit different from what most people experience. He was born with a congenital amputation of his left arm, meaning that his arm ended just a few inches below his elbow.
A congenital amputation like his is something that happens to about one out of every 2,000 babies and can range in severity from just missing part of a finger to the complete absence of both arms and legs. But despite his birth defect, Nick’s parents decided to raise him no differently from other children…
Just Like Other Kids
“My mum wanted me to be like every other kid,” Nick said. “As a boy, I liked to do everything boys did. When I wanted to play sports, I chose to play baseball and my mum signed me up. I was never sheltered or held back from doing anything I wanted to do.”
At that age, he wanted to be a pitcher like his idol, former MLB pitcher Jim Abbot. Abbot, who was born without a right hand, didn’t let that stop him from reaching the very peak of his sport, winning the prestigious Sullivan Award before having a 10 year career in the big leagues…
Not My Sport
“I played baseball for a little bit, but I wasn’t meant to be a pitcher. I’m not as talented as Abbot was. I don’t have the accuracy or the power in my throws. I made the all-star team in baseball, but it wasn’t fun for me. I didn’t enjoy it, so I went into martial arts because it intrigued me,” Nick said.
Not A Natural
He started practicing Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu, Thai Boxing and joined his high school wrestling team. As you might imagine, it was more of a challenge for Nick than most. “In the beginning, I wasn’t that good. I lost my first 19 matches, but I worked hard and dedicated myself to the sport. Instead of hanging out with my friends, I spent entire summers away at wrestling camps.” That hard work paid off in spades as he turned his record around, eventually becoming an all-state wrestler…
Not Exactly Fair…
Martial arts is all well and good as a hobby but, while he was in college, Nick got the idea that he wanted to pursue a career as a mixed martial arts fighter. Of course, there were those that thought this was a terrible idea. With his physical difference in mind, they thought there’s no way a fight between Nick and a professional fighter would be at all fair. And it wasn’t fair, though not at all in the way the naysayers thought.
Nick Newell’s first fight was a lopsided affair that ended with a knockout in the first round, as many predicted, except Nick’s opponent was the one getting pummeled. His next fight ended even faster, this time with Nick getting the victory in just over a minute by applying a choke hold on his opponent. After going undefeated in his first eight fights, Nick won the XFC championship belt in his ninth, finishing all but one opponent in the first round. Despite reaching that laudable goal, he felt he still hadn’t reached his full potential…
Reach For The Top
Nick’s dream was to fight for the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the biggest and most prestigious MMA promotion in the world. But UFC president Dana White was completely against the idea, saying he would never” have a one-armed person fight for his promotion.
“It’s hard to fight here with two arms,” White said. “Fighting with one arm is just craziness to me.” The strongest counterargument to those reservations Nick could offer was simple: keep winning fights. Over the next few years, he would win 5 more fights with only a single setback while, all the while, a social media campaign of MMA fans swelled with people calling on the UFC to give Nick his shot at the big show…
Too Good To Ignore
Eventually, Nick’s impressive 14-1 record combined with fan pressure became too much to ignore and he would get his shot, though to hear Dana White tell it, it wasn’t those things that changed his mind. Instead, it was Nick’s passion and determination that swayed him.
“This kid came in and begged,” White said. “This is his dream, this is what he lives for, and this is what this guy has worked his whole life to do. He wants it so bad and I’m sitting there going, ‘This is crazy, man, but I’m going to do it. I’m going to give you your chance.”…
That chance would come in 2018 in the form of the “Tuesday Night Contender Series,” a show where up and coming fighters square off against each other, with the winners potentially earning a contract to be a real UFC fighter. It was the biggest opportunity of Nick’s career to put it lightly.
Of course, that’s the sort of thing that would make anyone nervous, but Nick was trying his best to take everything in stride. “I don’t make a big deal out of anything so I think that’s one of the things that’s allowed me to be able to compete and win so often,” he said. “But obviously the stakes for this are pretty high and it’s a fight that can change my life.”…
His opponent would be the undefeated Alex Munoz, a wrestler so skilled that he served as the wrestling coach for the vaunted “Team Alpha Male,” a training camp that produced several world champions and too many superstars to mention. He would be Nicks’ most skilled opponent to date.
Not Quite Enough
While each round of the fight was close, Munoz’s superior wrestling skill would prove to be too much and he was able to edge out each round by controlling his opponent for a clean sweep on the judges’ scorecards. Nick Newell tasted defeat for the second time in his professional career…
Nick had come close to achieving his dream, only to fall short just before reaching it. “Physically I’m fine,” he said to reporters shortly after the fight. “Emotionally it hurts. But I’ve lost before and it made me better. There are lessons to be learned from this, and I’m just going to keep moving forward. Right now it looks like I’m going to have to go back to the drawing board and just keep working toward the dream.”
It’s that sort of attitude — honest, humble, and hard working — more than his “disability” that made Nick an inspiration for so many people. But if you asked him, being a role model was never something he was trying to do…
It Comes Naturally
“Being an inspiration or not being an inspiration is not something you can force,” Nick said. “You just have to be yourself and do what you do and if people chose to be inspired by what you’re doing and look at you as a role model, that’s the way it is. I’m just a regular guy that’s following his dream and I happen to be a little bit different but I never let it stop me from doing the things I want to do.”
“People can kind of relate to me, I think. I’m just a normal guy,” he added. ”I’m not ‘mean-mugging’ people and acting tough. I’m just a guy who loves what he does and works hard. I wear my differences on my sleeve but the thing is everyone’s different so everyone has a struggle that they’re facing — some you can see and some you can’t see.” After his loss, Nick Newell vowed to continue his quest to reach the top of his sport. “I’m just going to get better from here.”