Nick Newell went into his July 5 fight with Justin Gaethje as the top contender to the World Series of Fighting lightweight title and the owner of an unblemished record.
Although Newell left WSOF 11 with the first loss of his career, “Notorious” still feels he should be next in line for another shot at the belt due to the circumstances of his defeat.
Speaking to Sherdog.com this week, Newell pointed toward the tail end of round one, where he took a pair of illegal knee strikes to the head while grounded, as the turning point in the bout.
“It’s not something that is up for debate,” Newell said. “It’s very blatant that the knees hit me in the head. I wasn’t the same. It’s obvious when you watch the video that it’s what cut me. It’s obvious that, when I got up, I was wobbly, and they need to closely monitor who they hire as referees, and they need to have stricter standards.
“Always being the good guy and taking the high road, it sucks sometimes, especially in this situation. I wasn’t given a fair shake and I got robbed of a great opportunity.”
For Newell, the first round was an even matchup. If anything, the Springfield, Mass., native felt like he was getting the better of his exchanges with Gaethje before suffering the blows to the temple.
“I’m not saying that I would have won had it not happened,” said Newell. “I respect Justin. He’s a great fighter, but I was winning the fight up until it did happen, and it happened, and it changed the fight. There’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it. It was a huge momentum swing. It went from me winning, to me just getting destroyed. I don’t even remember the fight after the knee. I don’t remember anything my corner said to me or anything.”
The defeat will go down as a technical knockout for Newell, a loss that was seen on national television during World Series of Fighting’s NBC debut. For the former Xtreme Fighting Championship titleholder, the knees are emblematic of a bigger problem for the sport of MMA.
“We aren’t playing horseshoes over here. It’s a violent sport, and it’s a referee’s responsibility to catch something illegal that could hurt someone. It cost me half my paycheck and it cost me a world title,” Newell explained. “It’s a really sh---y situation for me and something that I have to deal with, and it’s something I am trying not to dwell on too much. One thing I pride myself on is being a good sport and, win or lose, you just have to accept it. But, in this situation, it’s very different because I just had some really bad luck in this one.”
The 28-year-old isn’t allowing the loss to derail his future plans with WSOF. While he obviously feels an immediate rematch is more than warranted, Newell doesn’t see a need for his path back to the title being a long one. In fact, fighting the winner of the recently announced Gathje versus Melvin Guillard matchup makes sense.
“I honestly think I deserve a rematch, but I am not going to be bitter about. If they want those two to fight, I think I should only have to win one more to get back in contention,” Newell said. “There’s plenty of good guys in the division that I haven’t fought yet. I am down to fight whoever they want me to fight, I just want to work my way back into title contention as soon as possible and show everyone what I am really capable of.
“I’m not mad at Justin. I want to fight whoever wins between him and Melvin. I want the belt. The belt is what motivates me. But I would rather have a rematch with Justin, rather than fight Melvin... That’s purely based off the fact that he has beaten me. Isn’t that what everyone wants? To wipe the slate clean? I am more determined than ever.”
It was quite public during the build-up to WSOF 11 that Newell and Gaethje had become friends outside of the cage. This isn’t something that has changed since the tilt, as Newell holds no ill will towards his opponent for the knees.
“Last Saturday wasn’t me. It sucks, but I guess it’s the game. Sometimes you get the call, sometime you don’t. It could have played out either way. I usually watch where I hit. I am not saying Justin’s a dirty fighter or trying to throw his name in the mud or anything like that. I am just saying he got reckless, hit me with illegal blows and it changed the fight,” Newell said. “It went from being someone clearly winning to someone else clearly winning after the knees. I feel like I deserve another chance because the first one wasn’t fair.”