Nick Newell had his long-awaited chance at his UFC dreams on Tuesday night. But his best efforts weren’t quite enough.
The Connecticut native has earned plaudits for his inspirational life story, becoming a successful mixed martial artist despite his handicap as a congenital amputee.
But the veteran lightweight came up short in the feature bout of Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, as he dropped a unanimous decision to Team Alpha Male’s Alex Munoz (5-0). The judges’ scores at the UFC Training Center in Las Vegas were 30-27 across the board.
“I knew he was going to be a tough fighter, he knows he has one arm he uses very well, actually two arms he uses very well,” Munoz said. “You can’t count him out he’s a quality opponent and I wish him the best of luck.”
Munoz was a wrestling standout at Oklahoma State and is currently the wrestling coach at Sacramento’s Team Alpha Male gym. And his wrestling spelled the difference in the bout. Newell scored with front kicks and nearly landed flying knees, but whenever it appeared Newell might turn up the heat, Munoz’s grappling stymied his opponent and kept him from getting untracked.
Newell (14-2) went for broke in the third, and landed a tight guillotine in the middle of the round, but Munoz escaped and once again used his top game to reassert control.
Munoz, however, wasn’t among those who earned UFC contracts on the evening. UFC president White handed out three: Jim Crute; Sadiq Yosuff, and Jeff Hughes. Additionally, Chase Hooper was signed to a developmental deal.
The 22-year-old Crute made the long trip from Victoria, Australia worth his while with a first-round TKO of New Jersey’s Chris Birchler.
Birchler got off to a strong start, popping Crute on several occasions and keeping him backpedaling. But as soon as Crute got his bearings, he didn’t need much time to end the fight. Crute walloped Birchler with a wicked over-the-top left hook that had Birchler wobbling and essentially out on his feet, as the bout was waved off at the 4:23 mark.
“There’s so many Aussies coming through and we’re about to take over,” Crute said after improving to 8-0. “We’ve been drilling the right hand left hook and that’s what I did.”
In a featherweight matchup, Yusuff (7-1) put on a well-rounded show in defeating a game Mike Davis (5-1). Yusuff showed ring generalship in stalking his opponent and landing a variety of strikes to earn a unanimous decision on across-the-board 30-27 scores.
The bout got off to a wild start in the first round, as Yusuff landed huge right hands and Davis, who won all five of his previous bouts via TKO, landed enough to keep his opponent honest.
But Yusuff also landed one calf kick after another, and as the fight’s pace slowed over the final two rounds, that made the difference, as every time Davis tried to get back into the fight, he’d just take another low kick for his troubles.
After the fight, Yusuff gave a nod to his fellow Nigerian competitors.
“We got Kamaru [Usman], we got Israel [Adesanya],” Yusuff said. “Us Nigerians, we’re coming up. We’re warriors, we’re natural fighters, I told Dana there’s 20 [Francis] Ngannous, we’re African strong.”
A training partner of former UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic, Hughes (10-1) looked impressive in a first-round TKO of Bellator veteran Josh Appelt (15-7).
Hughes used sharp striking and strong wrestling to slowly wear Appelt down. Appelt managed to escape a ground-and-pound flurry, but as soon as he got to his feet, he was met with a wicked uppercut to the face which ended the bout via TKO at the 4:26 mark of the opening round.
“If I can take a shot from (Miocic), I can take a shot from anyone,” Hughes said before learning of his UFC deal. “He’s the greatest, he’ll get his belt back and I hope I can be in the UFC here with him.”
The evening’s opening fight was a battle of youthful competitors, the 18-year old Hooper (5-0) took on 20-year-old Canaan Kawalhae (4-1, 1 NC) in a featherweight matchup. The Hawaiaan Kawlhae had a tremendous opening round, dominating Hooper in the standup and rocking him with lefts to the jaw and knees and elbows in the clinch.
But Kawalhae gassed after the first, and Hooper, who had three career submissions to his credit, took over the bout from there, overwhelming Kawlhae with a variety of submission attempts over the final two rounds. Hooper did everything but earn the finish, but got the nod in a unanimous decision. The bout’s wild swings were reflected in the scores of 29-26, 29-26, and 28-26.
“It feels really good,” Hooper said. ”I wish I was able to finish, but it was good to show I can dominate. It was what I came out here expecting,”