WSOF 11 Headliners Justin Gaethje and Nick Newell Talk Title Fight on NBC

Hunter Homistek@HunterAHomistekCorrespondent IJuly 5, 2014

Strip away the inspirational narratives and the championship storylines and take a look at World Series of Fighting (WSOF) 11 headliners Justin Gaethje and Nick Newell. 

They're not so different. 

Each man boasts an impressive 11-0 record, and each has gone to a decision just once in his career. 

The WSOF lightweight champion, Gaethje, is three years younger (25) than Newell. Each man comes from a successful amateur wrestling background, and each has mastered the art of the first-round finish. 

So when they step into the cage Saturday afternoon in the WSOF 11 main event in Daytona Beach, Florida, fans can expect to see two of the sport's finest 155-pound fighters standing toe-to-toe in search of the finish. 

Just one day after the Fourth of July, there will be plenty of fireworks left over for our enjoyment with this matchup on deck. 

"Me and Nick are going to put on a show for you guys," Gaethje told Bleacher Report. "Whether it ends in the first round, 10 seconds, 24 minutesit doesn't matter. We're going to be trying to finish each other."

We've heard that before though, right? We're too wise to fall for these hollow statements. 

We heard about the grudge between Rashad Evans and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, and we know all about the serious beef between Jake Ellenberger and Rory MacDonald. Those fights were absolute duds, and we've received similar promises with no payoff throughout MMA's history. 

But something separates Gaethje and Newell. When you hear each man talk about losing rather than winning, you hear just how unafraid he is to step up and look for the finishing blow or submission. 

"Fighting is not scary to me," Newell told Bleacher Report. "There's much worse things in this world than getting knocked out in a fight. It's happened to people before, and they've been fine."

Gaethje echoed his opponent's sentiments. 

"I like to take chances," Gaethje said. "I know that the only way I'm going to advance in this sport is to be exciting and to finish fights, and I'm fine with that."

While the calm exhibited by these two fighters before their Saturday night battle is impressive, there was a time when each combatant was unsure of himself. The two WSOF lightweights come from stellar wrestling backgrounds, sure, but there's something different about getting punched, kicked, kneed and elbowed in the face. 

"I had no idea if I could fight when I first started. My first four amateur fights, I had never even been punched in the face or trained of any kind," Gaethje said. "I've never been in a street fight before, like one-on-one. In college, there were a couple brawls where I had to help some friends out, and then, yeah, I punched like two guys in college, and I knew I had knockout power because of that. Other than that, I had no idea." 

Inexperience? No matter for Mr. Gaethje. 

The former Northern Colorado University wrestling standout went 7-0 in his amateur career, earning four knockouts along the way. 

Newell, on the other hand, was not so fortunate in his amateur debut. He went 2-1 as an amateur fighter, but that lone loss occurred in his first bout, and Newell remembers the circumstances well. He jumped up from lightweight to welterweight after his initial opponent fell off the card and another slot needed filled at 170. 

Making no excuses, Newell ate the loss and vowed to never let it happen again. 

"Here's the thing: That was my first fight…ever. I don't come from a rough neighborhood. I was never a kid that got into a lot of fights. I was just somebody who was always intrigued by action movies and martial arts and pro wrestling," Newell said. "I did put a lot of pressure on myself in that one, and I didn't win, and I learned from it, and it actually helped me relax every fight after that. I was very calm, because the worst thing that could happen happened. I lost. All my friends still liked me, you know?"

As much as we can focus on the mirror images of Gaethje and Newell, marveling at their eerily similar career trajectories, the differences persist.

Gaethje, a Division I All-American wrestler training at one of the nation's top camps at Grudge Training Center in Denver, is supposed to be here.

He's a stud, an athletic specimen equal parts natural gifts and hard work.

Newell, due to a condition known as congenital amputation, was counted out from day one, but he defied the odds.

He racked up over 300 wins throughout his high school and college wrestling careers, but the kid with only one hand couldn't become a legitimate mixed martial artist, could he? He'll get demolished!

Only he didn't.

To this point in his career, Newell has done the demolishing, and he attributes his success to a tried-and-true method of self-improvement. 

"I appreciate the value of hard work," Newell said. "Having one hand has never been a big deal to me. I know that sounds crazy to some people. I think people make a bigger deal out of it than I ever had. I learned that's the way things are, and I've accepted it a long time ago. Nothing I do astonishes me."

After traversing a road that's seen him overcome obstacle after obstacle, Newell has arrived on the big stage on network television to fight for a world title under the WSOF banner. 

And when the cage door closes, he knows just what will make the difference in the fight. 

"I wouldn't put him (Gaethje) down in a textbook on how to strike, you know, but he gets away with it because of his physical gifts and his relentlessness," Newell said. "I feel like technique is going to be the difference-maker in this fight, and I'm going to be the more technical fighter."

To his credit, Gaethje is well aware of his opponent's strengths and skills, and he's prepared to slog through the deep waters to secure his first title defense.

"I feel that you guys are going to see that I'm going to be able to go for 25 minutes of straight time trying to knock him out," Gaethje said. "The quicker I can get it over with, the quicker my family doesn't have to worry and I can get out of there. I love it, man. I'm going to keep trying to finish at all costs."  


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