I dont want to be an old, busted-up guy giving people a watered-down version of myself for a paycheck.That was Nick Newell in October 2015. That was him explaining his decision to retire from MMA at 29, despite a solid career record of 13-1 and the peculiar kind of fame that comes with being a one-handed professional fighter.
The way he told it then, he had too many injuries, too much physical damage, and he couldnt even train properly anymore, much less perform to his own satisfaction on fight night. So he retired. He focused on running his gym Fighting Arts Academy in West Haven, Conn. and he also got engaged. He built a nice life for himself.And now hes coming right back to the same thing that left him battered and broken.
The announcement went out on Monday in an email from the LFA, a promotion formed by a recent merger between RFA and the Legacy FC. Newell had signed a multi-fight deal with LFA, it said, with an as-of-yet-undetermined return date.
The question is why. Why would a guy who quit due to injuries want to return to the same activity that injured him, especially if, as Newell says now, he doesnt need the money?
The answer, according to Newell, is more personal than financial.
I just dont want to live a life of regret, Newell told MMAjunkie. I know that Im one of the best fighters in the world, and not just for a guy with one hand. I know thats what draws people to me, but I also know what Im capable of doing. More than anything else, this is just something that I have fun doing.That wasnt the case when last the MMA world saw him. After suffering his lone loss in a WSOF lightweight title bout against Justin Gaethje, who made his UFC debut this past July Newell won his next two bouts via decision. They were boring fights, he said, mostly because he was too hurt to train properly, which left him too worried about his cardio to fight with his usual frantic aggression.
At one low point, his back hurt so much that he couldnt even comfortably sit on the couch. He had to lie on the floor if he wanted to watch TV, Newell said. Hed spend weeks at a time walking around like a hunchback.
I was injured, but still doing it because I needed the money, Newell said. I only really trained one week for my last fight because I was hurt, blew out my back, but I had to fight because I needed the money.
That’s one aspect of his life that’s very different now, according to Newell’s longtime coach,Jeremy Libiszewski. He watched Newell soldier on through one injury after another, and came away convinced of Newell’s mental toughness. But physically, he also saw Newell wearing himself down just to keep the paychecks coming in.
“He has a business now, where he doesnt have to fight to make money,” Libiszewski said. “Its easy to say, Hey, dont fight if youre hurt. But when you have a new house to pay for, you might end up taking fights you shouldnt. Now he can afford to pick and choose a little more, and hes a bigger, stronger athlete than he was, so itll be interesting.”
But a return to MMA will also bring the inevitable questions of how far Newell can realistically go in the sport. In 2012, UFC President Dana White said Newell, who was born with a congenital amputation that stops his left arm just below the elbow, would never fight in the UFC.
It’s hard to fight here with two arms, White said shortly before UFC 155. It’s tough. There’s guys that we bring in that are considered top guys on The Ultimate Fighter that don’t ever really pan out and make it. Will the state of Nevada let (Newell) fight? Will the state of California let him fight? Would some of these bigger athletic commissions let him fight? Maybe he can get away with that in some of these other states. I don’t know. Fighting with one arm is just craziness to me.
Newells used to that response, he said. Hes been hearing it all his life.
But Im a UFC-caliber fighter, Newell said. I know that, but I dont know when theyre going to see that. Im not going to be that whiny guy, like, Oh, I belong in the UFC. Why wont you sign me? Im just going to start whooping peoples asses until they beg for me to come over.
As for the injuries that plagued him before, Newell concedes that those could become an issue once again when he throws himself back into the fire that nearly consumed him before. Even his coach refers to his comeback as “a trial run.”
Its hard to stay healthy when youre fighting for a living, and Newell already knows how much injuries can hamper his quality of life.
But when you miss something, you miss it, Newell said. When you want to do something, youre going to try to do it. Getting hurt is always a possibility, but I want to do this, so Im going to do it.For more on the AXS TV Fights schedule, check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.