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Fighter Analysis: Nick Newell

XFC Nick Newell 320x200 Fighter Analysis: Nick NewellWhile it might not be as prestigious as a UFC or Bellator title, the XFC Lightweight title changed hands last Friday, yet made quite a stir in its transition from former to present champion. This isn’t the kind of title that generates buzz, and while the bout itself was good, it wasn’t the kind of affair that had Fight Of The Year written all over it. Why all the talk though? Enter congenital amputee Nick Newell to the championship circle.

Fighting out of Springfield, Massachusetts, the 26-year-old has amassed a record of 9-0 after his title bid, using freestyle wrestling offense, a slick grappling game, and powerful offensive striking style to make quick work of his opposition. The interesting thing is how he pulls all of this off without the aid of a left hand and forearm. Being from a self-defense and karate background, I find things like this incredibly fascinating, as we often train for circumstances where you’ve lost the use of a limb through injury. The idea that someone can not only “survive” MMA fighting, but fight and defeat decent caliber opponents made me sit down and really hash out how Nick Newell does this. Below, we’ll look at his fighting style through all “stages” of combat and assess the pros and cons of his handicap in each field.

His style and training: I’m not going to lie; I didn’t think Newell could beat Eric Reynolds at XFC 21 for the title initially.  Looking at the disadvantages of coming into a combat sport short a hand and wrist seemed like his defensive flaws would outstrip his offensive skills. But, one thing stuck in my mind concerning his opponent: How do you train for this guy? The equation of two men of equal skill fighting, yet one is missing an arm is almost absurd. In competition sword fighting, a blow to the hand or sword arm is considered just as valid as a blow to the head, because if you got hit at full strength, you’re obviously not going to do so well minus a hand, right?

Yet Newell’s greatest advantage comes not with any in-fight technique, but his pre-fight preparations.  In short, Newell has spent his entire life fighting short a limb, but you can’t find a single fighter to replicate this in a gym when you’re training to face him. His amputation is so specific that no one can even fake it in training sessions, giving Newell a huge advantage in the opening minutes of a fight.  It’s like southpaw vs. orthodox times a thousand.

Newell uses this adjustment time to its fullest, which is evident from his eight first round finishes that average just under two minutes. Conversely, his toughest fight was against Chris Coggins, which went to a majority decision. It’s going to be fast and sweet victory for Newell or a very tough night.

Assessing stages: Battlefields, phases, stages, etc are the specific ranges or areas combat takes place in.  The name and number of areas depends on whose article you’re reading, but for your buddy Mr. Hammersmith, there are five stages: Probing, boxing, clinch, top game and bottom game. Now, let’s break down Newell and see how he functions in these stages, with the pros and cons of his handicap.


This is Newell’s second strongest phase and an areas he fights exceedingly well in. Fighting in a deep southpaw stance, Nick Newell fires an array of front and rear leg kicks, as well as sharp punches with his right arm, keeping his weak side well away from opponents. While he isn’t from a karate background, this style of fighting comes off as such and causes the same kind of distancing issues with opponents as if they were fighting a Machida or Cruickshank; Using footwork rather than defensive posturing to avoid danger.

Pros: While this is one of Newell’s strongest stages, it has the least to do with his handicapped arm.  The arm is used as support in case someone rushes forward or circles oddly during an attack, but is primarily used for balance when kicking and to cover the head otherwise.

Cons: As a blocking arm, Newell’s left leaves far too much space undefended. Without the forearm, the arm must be raised to block strikes to the head, leaving the ribcage wholly exposed, and even used thus, isn’t large enough to protect the entire side of the head. A looping shot could find its way around the bicep without too much trouble, and I seriously question if the limb has enough strength to block a full-power head kick. Another southpaw that circles to that side can potentially attack the weak side of the body, throwing mid and high kicks while avoiding Newell’s front hand and leg.

Nick Newell Fighter Analysis: Nick NewellBoxing:

This is a stage Newell does surprisingly well in, although one that he spends little time in, choosing instead to back out or attack with takedowns. Flurry’s, takedowns and pressure fighting are the name of the game here as Nick Newell takes away space or leaves the stage entirely.

Pros: Newell includes his left in different combinations, working it almost like a very short hook, despite the fact he’s hitting with an elbow. I don’t know how it hits from this angle, but it keeps the flow of his stand-up going in the pocket and his right hand certainly packs a wallop. This is also the range Newell tends to change levels for takedowns, where he uses his arm as a hook behind an opponent’s leg or clasps it with his right hand to form an ultra-tight body lock.

Cons: Once again, the arm proves to an issue defensively, as I don’t believe he can over hook with it and it leaves his body open to shovel hooks and mid kicks in tight. He also has a disadvantage in the offensive department, as the variety of strikes and range are lacking. It’s for these reasons I believe he avoids this stage as much as possible.


We’ve seen very little from Nick Newell in this range, and it leads me to believe it may be his weakest area.  While his impressive KO of David Mays came from a clinch engagement that was capitalized with a murderous knee strike, Newell’s lack of a hand on his left side leaves him predictable and at a disadvantage both offensively and defensively.

Pros: Newell’s left arm appears to be exceedingly strong, and I’d be surprised if someone could force an under hook on that side with how tight he can anchor it to his body. That same shape and strength could also make it a great under hook, although the versatility of his clinch wrestling would be compromised to some extent. Still, his ability to form a ridiculously powerful body lock could help if he can work around an opponent’s armpits and work any number of takedowns from said position.

Cons: As for as striking offense in the clinch goes, I think this may be his worst area, as the left arm can’t hit as hard as the right, but is too short to allow proper spacing when he pulls back to dirty box or throw knees and elbows. Also, if it’s possible to get an under hook on that side, I don’t think he has a way of pummeling in with the appendage to get out of that position, leaving him vulnerable for takedowns.  Switching sides, an opponent can under hook his good side and with one arm and control his left with one hand by pushing the arm backward by the crook of the elbow. With no forearm or hand to fight the action, this opens up Newell’s entire left side to a battery of knees.

Top game:

This area is Newell’s strongest and where almost all of his finishes have come from. With his takedown leading the way, Nick Newell throws relentless ground and pound, giving opponents no room to set up attacks and often leaving limbs out for the taking. His top game is also strong on opponents looking for quick escapes as his front headlock arsenal is murder, as are his RNC attacks.

Pros: Newell uses his left arm in ground and pound attacks to some effect as it’s difficult to entangle in his opponent’s legs while fighting in guard. It’s using it to hook opponents where his handicap becomes a major advantage though, as the incredibly strong appendage has no surface area to attack to remove it. Reynolds learned the hard way that the RNC comes at a completely different angle than most, being vice-like with no hand-hold to use to relieve pressure. Hernandez found a similar problem on a different submission, being unable to kick Newell’s arm off when it engaged a heel hook that was actually nearly finished without even getting his right arm into the equation. Newell approaches his submissions like the great hookers of the carnival wrestling circuits, giving no time to puzzle out the hold and almost no time to tap out.

Cons: While Newell’s left arm is massively dangerous in an offensive sense, it leaves his right arm vulnerable to straight armlocks, and triangles may or may not be impossible to escape. Whether or not submissions on the left arm itself are possible or not, we don’t yet know, and I suspect most traditional holds like omaplatas or straight armlocks will never find purchase. Something improvised though, such as an arm triangle from bottom on that side might be just the ticket to submitting Newell with something he’s unprepared for. He also can’t post on that side, making a sweep moving him in that direction much harder to block.

Bottom game:

We’ve seen little of Newell’s bottom game, but what we saw was mostly defensive in nature, which is exactly the opposite of the rest of his style. Using sweep attempts rather than submissions, Nick Newell looks to move opponents with his legs and stand up to fight in areas he’s more comfortable in.

Pros: Very little unfortunately, other than his arm doesn’t appear to be large enough to come under attack in some cases. This makes his opponents focus on other offensive attacks, but that is hardly a plus side when you really look at it. The one saving grace of his left arm is that it makes for a handy collar tie, which allows him to take space away from opponents while using his right arm to attack, or to reposition his legs if needed. Against Coggins, he also appeared to work towards a unique guillotine attack that would have been difficult to escape, but was unable to attain the hold.

Cons: This is perhaps the only place where Newell’s disability is actually strictly a disability. Such classic defensive moves like an under hook and post to stand up from bottom are impossible to perform, and isolating his right arm negates all offense. An opponent content to hang in half guard could pin the right arm and elbow freely with their right arm, as the left arm of Newell lacks the length to adequately protect his head. In general, blocking ground and pound appears to be impossible on that side.

In closing, the one greatest pro of his condition is an intangible: Heart. In wrestling, certain consolations are made for matches with disabled grapplers, but MMA has no such quarter given. The fact Newell has had to adapt in a harsh sport like MMA, and continues to excel in it, shows he has more heart than most men he’ll be facing in his career. Not one to be broken and certainly not lazy in the gym, Nick Newell will continue to improve, and we look forward to seeing him defend his XFC title in the future.

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Tags: Eric Reynolds, MMA, Nick Newell, XFC, XFC 21

Category: Exclusive, Featured, MMA, XFC

Mike Hammersmith (Featured Staff Writer)

About the Author ()

I'm a 20+ year veteran of martial arts and a fan of MMA since UFC 1, when my world was thrown on its head by the budding sport. I'm obsessive in the pursuit of martial abilities and have competed across the country in everything from Vale Tudo to archery to Scottish broadsword. Once my body broke down, I picked up a pen and went in the direction of writing. I specialize in betting advice, predictions, and I'm a walking encyclopedia of MMA trivia. I own a cafe in Exeter, NH called Hammersmith Sandwich Company and write out of my office between customers.

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