What Newell has achieved is incredible, as a disabled athlete who was born with a congenital amputation (meaning his left arm ends just after the elbow) to compete successfully against hale athletes in some of the most physically demanding sports imaginable (first wrestling and now MMA) is a great story in itself.
A 9-0 streak including eight first round stoppages is admirable in any fighter and Newell’s last fight saw him grab a submission win over experienced former Bellator fighter, Eric Reynolds and with it it XFC title belt.
Think how complex MMA is, with the leverage for submission holds and angles for striking effectively all wrapped up into one mental/physical challenge. Take one of your hands away and you lose one of your bigger a levers for submissions and also one of your eight points of contact for striking.
For Newell to do so well in spite of his disability is breathtaking, especially so when it’s been doubly hard for him to get fights as many non-disabled fighters have refused to fight him, seeing it as a lose-lose situation for them.
Newell deserves credit as a pioneer for inclusion in mixed martial arts, and stands alongside the likes of Matt Hamill as a beacon of hope for the similarly disadvantaged.
As such, it’s great to see him advance to a larger promotion, with a big TV deal etc.
For a start, there has been some controversy about the legitimacy of Newell’s win streak, with many commentators implying that dives have been taken, citing the improbability of a one armed man regularly submitting non-disabled opponents.
I haven’t seen any of Newell’s early fights and I don’t ever like to infer such practises in MMA so I don’t hold these accusations with a whole lot of credibility, but the water is muddied nonetheless.
More pressing is the way in which Newell’s relationship with the XFC ended. Having taken a shot on Newell with a multi fight deal and giving him a crack at their Lightweight title, Newell repaid the promotion by refusing to fight no.1 contender Scott Holtzman as he ‘only wanted to face former UFC fighters.’
So, from complaining that no-one would fight him, Newell overnight became the kind of fighter who wants to pick his opponents…
The XFC stripped him of the title and released him from his contract, rightly enraged that a fighter they’d helped build up tried to hold their title ransom.
It’s great that a relatively new and unbeaten talent is getting the chance to fight on NBC in a promotion that has the means to really promote them. It’s even better that a disabled fighter has gained a platform to show MMA as an inclusive sport and maybe change wider perceptions.
However, is it cool that Newell, who got the can from XFC for what amounts to grossly unprofessional conduct, instantly goes on to walk into a higher profile, bigger money promotion?
That’s not right.
Sure, there’s nothing wrong with ambition and at the end of the day an undefeated, relatively high profile and definitely marketable free agent was always going to get snapped up by someone, but…
… is it a good thing that Newell was effectively rewarded for pretty much throwing the XFC’s investment in him back in their face?