Nick Newell is back, once again fighting for his UFC dream

Nick Newell competes on Friday for the first time since July. Daniel Martinez for ESPN

Nick Newell will return to competition Friday in Hartford, Connecticut, nearly one year after he came up short in a bid to win a UFC contract.

Newell (14-2), a congenital amputee, will face Antonio Castillo Jr. (9-9) in a show promoted by CES MMA, a regional company in the Northeast. The 33-year-old Newell, a former World Series of Fighting competitor, fought in July 2018 on Dana White's Tuesday Night Contender Series, which awards UFC contracts to some winners. But Newell suffered a decision loss to Alex Munoz.

That bout was widely viewed as Newell's best -- and perhaps last -- chance at making his way to the UFC. Newell was born with a left arm that extends just past his elbow. In 2012, UFC president White said he would never consider signing Newell, but ultimately he gave him a shot in the DWTNCS.

Newell spoke to ESPN ahead of his comeback fight, addressing whether he still believes the UFC is in his future.

ESPN: Why haven't you fought since the loss to Munoz 11 months ago?

Newell: First off, I wanted to get better. The wrestling game has changed. I graduated from a wrestling college 10 years ago, and I was a good wrestler. I've always been a good wrestler. I've been the better wrestler in all of my fights. I have a black belt in jiu-jitsu and I've been focused on striking, and I kind of got away from wrestling. I reignited my passion for wrestling. In my last fight, I felt I had a chance at a submission and I was winning the striking, but I got out-grappled and controlled, and that bothered me.

Second, my wife was pregnant. It was our first child, and I really wanted to make sure I was there for her physically and emotionally through that process. Once my son was born, I wanted to have some time to get to know him and enjoy it, but I was training the whole time, getting better the whole time.

"If you look at my fight with Justin Gaethje, I did better against him than two people who are top 10 in the world." Nick Newell

ESPN: How did this fight with the CES promotion come together?

Newell: CES is a big promotion in the Northeast. They are really the only promotion that gets the best guys to fight each other. I've cornered a lot of fighters here, and I like the way they conduct themselves. They were having a show in my home state of Connecticut and reached out to see if I was available, and I was.

I reached out to Bellator MMA when they had a show here in February, and I don't know, I guess they weren't interested, which is fine. I'm not gonna dwell on it. I haven't heard anything about an offer from PFL. I'm going to fight for people who want me to fight for them, and I'm going to win.

ESPN: For nearly 10 years, you've expressed your dream is to fight in the UFC. What is the status of that dream?

Newell: I talked with [UFC matchmaker] Sean Shelby after the DWTNCS fight, and they liked the way I fought. He told me to go get a win, and that he thinks the ESPN broadcast is a good fit for me. I have to go out and win fights. I can't go into the UFC on a loss. Hopefully, he was telling me the truth and I can win this fight and get into the UFC.

I have a good record at 14-2. I've beaten a lot of good opponents. I'm hoping that this performance will get the biggest shows calling. I know I'm good enough. I had a bad night back in July. That's the way the game is. No one is on point every single day.

ESPN: What would you say to anyone who believes the majority of your wins are against lesser competition, and when you did fight at a higher level, you came up short?

Newell: I was supposed to fight a guy with a 17-5 record on Friday; now I'm fighting a guy with a record not as good because he was a short-notice replacement. If you look at the records of opponents I've beat, some of them have really good records. But the only way to fight UFC-caliber fighters is in the UFC, so you don't know unless you're there. But I train with UFC fighters and I know I can hang. I have also beat tougher opponents than other guys in the UFC. If you look at my fight with Justin Gaethje [a loss in 2014], I did better against him than two people who are top 10 in the world.

ESPN: Did you learn anything through your experience on DWTNCS, just from the sense of how open people are to the idea of you fighting on the largest platform?

Newell: Look, the one concern everyone has is that if I lose a fight, the world will stop turning and no one will watch MMA ever again. That it will be bad for the sport. Well, I lost a fight, and then the UFC went and had its biggest pay-per-view of all time between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor. So, it doesn't make a difference. I've already proven I belong and I don't want to be treated any different. I just want an opportunity to win or lose. Obviously, I'm confident I can win in the UFC, and it's not the end of the world if I happen to lose.

I think I showed them I have well-rounded skills. I didn't get the nod that night, but I don't think it's a far stretch to think they'll reach out to me if I win this fight.