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Nick Newell explains MMA return: ‘I never lost my fire’

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Nick Newell discusses his time off from MMA and his return to action at LFA 35 on Friday.

Few MMA fighters stay retired forever.

That holds true for Nick Newell, who stepped away from the sport in October 2015. He kept getting injured, and didn’t want to fight just to get a paycheck. It was hard for Newell to get motivated for a fight he’d enter hurt, barely himself. And that happened over and over again. So he said goodbye to MMA competition.

That goodbye ends on Friday, when Newell returns to action at LFA 35 in Houston. Exactly 890 days separate his last fight, a decision win over Tommy Marcellino at WSOF 24, and his return.

With that long between fights, why come back now?

“Because I want to,” Newell told BloodyElbow.com. “I never lost my fire to learn martial arts.”

Though injuries were one of the main reasons he left MMA, Newell also wanted to ensure his future was secured. MMA, of course, doesn’t last forever, and most fighters need to find a different career after fighting.

Since his retirement, Newell opened up a gym in Connecticut called Fighting Arts Academy, which is now home to several pro and amateur fighters.

“The industry is not the most promising if you get injured or, say, you fall off a little bit, or something happens and you can’t fight for a while,” Newell said. “I wanted to make sure that I was set up financially for my future. I started my own business, and I’ve been working on that.”

Newell said after his last fight, he didn’t do too much training for about six months; he didn’t want to suffer yet another injury. When he did train, he was real careful not to strain anything.

But for most of his retirement, he has been training — and improving as a mixed martial artist. Ring rust won’t be a factor on Friday, Newell said.

“I really didn’t do anything strenuous for six months, because my body was so run down and so beat-up,” Newell said. “The emphasis on improving technique and improving myself as a martial artist has always been there. Martial arts is a lifetime commitment, in my opinion. It’s not something that, ‘Oh, I have a fight, I better train.’”

During his time off, Newell has focused on ensuring his body is not constantly damaged. He has figured out ways to prevent injuries as much as possible. For Newell, it’s just a matter of not training too much.

“I did a lot of experimentation on what my body can handle and how I can perform my best,” Newell said. “Basically, I was helping people get ready for fights, and kind of doing mini camps myself. Seeing how efficient I can be with the work that I do — so not necessarily running myself into the ground as much as I used to.”

Newell added that he used sensory deprivation tanks, got massages, and saw a chiropractor during his LFA 35 fight camp — going the extra mile has also helped with limiting injuries.

“I used to never stop — ‘go, go, go, go, go.’ And I think that hurt me a little bit,” Newell said. “I kind of took my foot off the gas pedal and kind of picked the times that I would really, really go hard for this camp. We’ll see. My body’s never felt as good.”

Newell is not coming back to prove anything to anyone. He doesn’t believe he has unfinished business in MMA, and, at 13-1 professionally, he’s satisfied with how his career has unfolded. He chose to fight again simply because he enjoyed competing, and misses it.

“I think I’ve proven everything I need to prove,” Newell said. … “I’m just doing this because I like it, because I enjoy it, and the fire inside me to just compete is still there. The feeling you get from winning is unlike anything. I need that feeling back in my life.”

If you ask Newell, no fighter goes into a bout at 100 percent. Fighters compete with bumps and bruise all the time. But what Newell fought with in his last few fights was more than that.

“I was starting to get run down,” Newell recalled. “I felt like I wasn’t operating at a functional level. The level I was coming at was not just acceptable to compete (at). I was just trying to not lose instead of win.”

Now, Newell said, he’s entering LFA 35 much healthier — perhaps the healthiest he’s ever been. He’s still a little lower than 100 percent, though.

“I feel really good,” Newell said. “I’m an honest man — I’m at about 90 (percent). It’s good. My body’s a little run down just from training hard, but no glaring injuries, nothing serious. By the time the fight starts, (because) I have that week where I take it easy, I should be about 95 percent, ready to go.”

Newell didn’t comment much on his emotions heading into his return. He did say, however, that he’s “definitely not nervous” and “not worried about anything.” After all, Newell started fighting nearly a decade ago. He’s certainly not new to this.

He signed a three-fight deal with LFA, Newell said, and plans on honoring his contract. Prior to his retirement, Newell had a lengthy stint with WSOF, but opted against signing with the re-branded PFL for this latter part of his career. LFA had the better offer, he said.

Newell also explained why he chose to immediately commit to more than one fight despite not having fought since 2015.

“It was a good offer. I liked it. And I’m all in or all out with the way I do things. I’m all in. I’m ready to do this,” he said.

As far as where he expects his MMA career to go from here, Newell hinted he still has ambitions to fight in the UFC one day. He purposely did not actually say “UFC” when talking about his future, though. He doesn’t want to talk about the UFC too much right away, especially before his return fight.

For now, Newell hopes to prove during his LFA stint that he’s a top 20 lightweight in the world. And that starts on Friday.

Then he can move to the big leagues.

“I’m definitely still reaching my prime and reaching my peak,” Newell said. “I’m just trying to get the biggest fights possible. I think you know where I want to end up, and I think everyone knows where I want to end up, and I think everyone knows where I belong.”

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