On January 26, retired Major League Baseball player Jim Abbott took to Twitter to lend his support to up-and-coming mixed martial arts competitor Nick Newell, saying, “Nothing can stop you! Keep fighting, keep believing. We are all rooting for you.” The young fighter is undefeated as a pro, and was hoping his impressive eight-bout winning streak would eventually carry him into the Ultimate Fighting Championship. That is, until UFC president Dana White flat out said, “Never, no.” Newell, you see, is missing much of his left arm. Not that it would matter to Abbott, who was born without a right hand.
“I want people to believe in their ability to accomplish things,” said Abbott in an interview with Rebellion Media. In the span of a ten-year career, Abbott pitched for the New York Yankees, the California Angels, the Chicago White Sox and the Milwaukee Brewers. “I’m just rooting for him on a personal level. To be honest, I don’t know a lot about the fighting world, but people reached out to me and I became a fan. I’ve watched a few matches. Since I heard about Nick, I’ve watched a few.”
Abbott retired from MLB in 1999, and includes among his list accomplishments pitching a no-hitter against the Cleveland Indians in 1993 and working as a motivational speaker after his time in professional sports. There is, of course, the fact that he overcame great physical adversity to excel at the elite level – perhaps his greatest accomplishment of all.
“Baseball was interesting,” he said, “and the hardship for me was in the initial phases of my career, just learning to do things differently. But just because you do things a little bit differently doesn’t mean you can’t do things well.” He added, “Baseball is unlike the fighting world. They gave me the chance. I ran into roadblocks, but at least I had the opportunity to do things.”
It is that lack of opportunity that strikes a chord with Abbott. As athletes go, mixed martial arts competitors have to be extremely tough. In Newell’s time in the cage, he’s fought his way up the ranks of top regional promotion Xtreme Fighting Championships (XFC). In December, Newell quickly defeated Bellator veteran Eric Reynolds to become the organization’s lightweight champ. With victories earned both by way of knockout and submission, Newell is clearly tough and has the ability to be successful.
“I think it comes down to determination and belief,” said Abbott, speaking on Newell’s odds at success and drawing from his own experiences. “Once you get past that initial optimism that you can find a way, then it’s about the determination and hard work that you need to succeed.”
What has gone virtually unspoken is the question “What if?” What if, despite his best efforts, Newell steps into the UFC’s Octagon and gets beaten? In 2007, congenital amputee Kyle Maynard, whose arms end at his elbows and legs end at his knees, was unable to get licensed by the athletic commission in Georgia and was forced to fight in a state that had no commission oversight; Maynard lost, and that loss overshadowed all the other fights on that card. Wouldn’t Newell suffering a defeat stand out among others? After all, it could be seen as simply a person with a disability losing a cagefight – an image that carries with it all sorts of stigma and negative connotation.
Abbott doesn’t’ believe that would be the case. “I think he’d be a great example to a lot of people out there if he were to win or lose,” said Abbott. “It’s just him out there doing his best. I don’t think there’d be any stigma attached to him getting beaten.”
“I am a fan of Nick,” said Abbott. “He’s willing to take that chance and put himself in the ring, and you never know the glory of victory if you don’t know what it’s like to fail. He’s only asking for the chance to prove himself. It’s much more disappointing if he never gets his chance.”