Two lightweights looking to make their mark in the MMA landscape will throw down this Saturday night (Aug. 10, 2013) as Nick Newell takes on Keon Caldwell in the opening bout of the World Series of Fighting 4 main card in Ontario, Canada.
Newell made waves in the XFC promotion, competing at a high level despite being a congenital amputee. Still unbeaten as a fighter, he won the XFC title this past December before leaving the promotion to pursue a bigger opportunity with WSOF.
Caldwell was a contestant on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season 13, although he never got an opportunity to fight on the show due to leaving early. He has not fought in two years and is hoping to make a big impression in his return to caged combat.
Record: 9-0 overall, 0-0 in WSOF
Key Wins: Eric Reynolds (XFC 21)
Key Losses: none
How he got here: Hailed as the "one-armed fighter," Nick Newell was a congenital amputee, born without a left hand or most of his left forearm. He made the most of the disability, competing on the wrestling team in both high school and college before making the decision to transition to mixed martial arts.
The "Notorious" fighter had difficulty landing bouts throughout much of his early career due to multiple fighters not wanting to go into the "lose-lose" situation of facing him. That changed when he signed a deal with XFC which brought him national exposure on the cable station AXS TV.
Newell rose through the ranks of XFC and within one year, he was crowned the promotion's lightweight champion in his ninth career bout. Afterwards, he turned down an opponent looking for a bigger name to face and was stripped of his title.
This past May, Newell signed with World Series of Fighting and he'll be competing this weekend against Caldwell for the right to enter the promotion's four man lightweight tournament to crown its first 155-pound champion.
How he gets it done: Newell has some sneaky stand-up ability, but it's his ground game that will get the job done against Caldwell. Look for him to test the waters on the feet briefly, perhaps winging a few low and body kicks before closing the distance and looking for the takedown. Getting inside without getting tagged with Caldwell's boxing will be key.
If and when Newell can drive Caldwell to the canvas, he'll have a wide variety of options open to him, whether he wants to secure top position and hurt his opponent with ground and pound or he wants to attack with submissions. Newell has a very good heel hook an armbar, but if he plays the position game, the most likely method of victory will be rear naked choke.
Newell is very difficult to buck once he's on an opponent's back and he's able to secure a surprisingly powerful grip on a choke by latching onto his left elbow. That's how he wins.
Record: 9-1 overall, 0-0 in WSOF
Key Wins: none
Key Losses: Dhiego Lima (Sportfight X3)
How he got here: Caldwell didn't grow up with a martial arts background, instead relying on traditional sports like baseball, where he won the Georgia state championship as a center fielder. He gave mixed martial arts a try due to a suggestion from a friend who trained and immediately took a liking to it.
After a full year of training, he made his professional debut in December of 2007 and hasn't looked back, having never gone the distance in a bout and winning nine of his 10 career fights with his lone loss coming against top welterweight prospect Dhiego Lima.
Caldwell tried out for TUF season 13 and actually made it onto the show, but after some poor workouts and missing his family, he decided to leave the competition before ever getting a chance to compete. That was two years ago and he hasn't fought since July of 2011.
"The Black Assassin" is hoping to make a big impact in his return to the cage this weekend when he stands opposite Newell.
How he gets it done: Caldwell is primarily a stand-up fighter. He'll have to try and keep proper distance against Newell, who's a solid wrestler and will likely be looking to exploit his ground deficiencies.
Keep an eye on his striking as Caldwell is capable of knocking anyone out if he can get his hands or feet on them. He possesses some serious power, which has helped him score a knockout or TKO in eight of his nine professional victories.
Footwork will be key for Caldwell as he'll want to be able to score against Newell without giving the "Notorious" fighter an opening to take him down. The last thing Caldwell wants is to be stuck on his back against a dangerous wrestler/submission fighter.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this fight is how much Caldwell has grown as a mixed martial artist in the last two years. His ground game was pretty limited back in 2011, but with this much time to work and improve his overall game, he could be a completely different fighter on Saturday night. Either that, or his game has stagnated and he'll get run over by Newell in both fighter's debut with the promotion. The development of Caldwell during his hiatus will go a long way towards deciding who wins this fight.
Bottom Line: If you're not tuning in for the inherent curiosity of seeing a fighter compete with one and a half arms, you should still be watching because Newell is an incredibly exciting fighter in general. His battle against Chris Coggins was one of the gutsiest performances of 2012 and he goes out there and fights his ass off every time, disability or not. Newell knows this is the most exposure he's received yet and he wants to make the most of it, especially since he has a huge dream of one day competing in the UFC. Expect something amazing every time he steps into the cage.
Who will come out on top at WSOF 4? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!