Nick Newell circles to his right, in a southpaw stance, as XFC lightweight champ Eric Reynolds sizes him up. Though undefeated, Newell is the underdog in this December matchup -- but he's not about to fight like it. He fires leg kicks, then head kicks. When Reynolds presses, Newell, a former Connecticut all-state wrestler, latches onto his waist. Now the fight is in his world.
He suplexes Reynolds, takes his back, grabs the neck and squeezes. Seconds later his opponent taps, and the 27-year-old Newell is XFC's new champ. "There was this feeling of happiness and relief," he says. "Because this is a fight the bookmakers didn't have me winning."
He's used to it. After all, it's hard to look past what isn't there -- he was born without a left hand and much of the forearm. But Newell hopes UFC president Dana White sees a fighter who is hard to take down and has a solid chin, precise kicks and a loaded right hand. Newell has ended eight of his nine fights in the first round, including the Reynolds bout. Against Chris Coggins last April, Newell showed how he compensates for his handicap. Coggins sunk in a rear naked choke, which most fighters try to pry off with two hands. But Newell escaped by maneuvering his body and won by decision. "My advantage is my heart," he says.
But is that enough to earn a UFC shot? White isn't sure. "The best in the world fight in the UFC, and let me tell you, it's tough with two arms and two legs," he says. Of course, White is more likely to take a chance on a fighter who can drive fan interest. See James Toney and Kimbo Slice.
Newell insists he wouldn't crumble in the Octagon like those guys did. His next shot to prove his chops comes on June 14, when he defends his belt against Scott Holtzman. "I've always worked hard to get what I've gotten," he says. "There are a lot of weapons I can use in MMA. I just can't hit you with a left cross."