After Emanuel Newton’s parents died during his childhood, and when he flew off a motorcycle traveling at speeds more than twice the legal limit during a childish moment in adulthood, the reigning Bellator light-heavyweight champion appeared as an unlikely candidate for longterm survival, let alone to headline a nationally-televised (Spike TV, Friday, 9 p.m. Eastern) fight card.
“I’m not a believer in tragedy,” the Torrance-raised fighter tells Breitbart Sports. “My dad passed away when I was nine. My mom passed away when I was 16.” The mixed-martial artist confesses to developing “some interesting habits” after his father’s passing. “I didn’t have a male figure to show me how to be a man.”
“That’s why the hardcore scene came into play,” he explains of his love for such underground musical acts as Trapped under Ice, Piece by Piece, Internal Affairs, and Champion. He calls the punk subgenre “an outlet for my anger and my frustration. It replaced the family that I lost.”
Like the music that he loves, the Hardcore Kid remains hard to classify. When Muhammad “King Mo” Lawal called his African American opponent a “black skinhead” for listening to hardcore, Newton responded to the trash talk not in kind but by delivering a consciousness-relieving spinning back fist that left fans as stupefied as King Mo.
Emanuel Newton wasn’t supposed to win. But he wasn’t supposed to be alive, either. His life constantly surprises the people seeking to pigeonhole him.
The Bellator light-heavyweight champion acts as a check against stereotypes of all sort. Sprung from the same soil (sand?) that grew The Beach Boys and Boogie Nights‘s Dirk Diggler, Newton appears more a product of his salt-water surroundings on the ocean than his sweaty surroundings in the gym. “I’m definitely not your normal average everyday black guy,” Newton, a former lifeguard and current South Bay, Los Angeles, beach bum, acknowledges. “My ego and pride are in check.” Though he sports some ink and doesn’t begrudge those who sport more, his clean look contrasts with the colorful body art projected by so many MMA bodies. “I’m not going to get all tatted out like a lot of other guys,” he declares. “I’m starting to see that my body is a temple. Art’s made to be put on the wall not all over your body.”
He doesn’t look like a cage fighter. He doesn’t talk like one, either.
“The music and the persona of MMA and the world we live in is ego and pride,” the 25-7-1 light heavyweight reflects. “The program that man runs on right now is to be so prideful.” Though his British opponent for Friday’s fight vows to kill him, Newton promises to show him respect. He says that although some mixed-martial artists may behave as though they compete in a schoolyard or barroom he likes to keep it professional. Fans falling for fighters who talk harder than they fight “really just goes to show how stupid man is.” He sees MMA transitioning from loudmouth champions to humble ones.
The glamor of evil evident in rap prompts the 31-year-old black man to sound like a certain very white 65-year-old Fox News talking head. “We live in a world in which rap is the main music. If you’re black, you’re supposed to be into rap,” he points out. But unlike hardcore, rap offers “no words that are going to help you.” Newton cops to liking some old-school hip-hop. “Now all the music is about making money and treating women like s#!+, all about ‘the paper’ and the drugs,” he observes. “It’s really destroying the world in my opinion.”
Emanuel Newton almost destroyed his own world by taking a new motorcycle to 152 miles per hour on a Southern California highway in 2006. “I was drinking,” he confesses. “I was on my way back from the club. I just got my bike. I was trying to top it out. Eventually, I just ended up flying in the air.” Anyone named Emanuel Issac Newton surely understood better than most that what goes up must eventually come down. He says that he played Superman for ten seconds before gravity acted as his kryptonite. “I had a feeling while I was in the air flying, ‘If this is my time, this is my time.’” But five surgeries later, he used the same arm that doctors once considered amputating to choke out Linton Vassell and inflict exclamation-point strikes upon Joey Beltran after victimizing him with his trademark spinning-back fist. He hopes to put Liam McGeary to sleep with it in some fashion this Friday.
“I definitely had angels with me that night,” Newton reflects. “I should be dead. I really should be.”
Newton sounds almost appreciative of the setbacks in life that conditioned his perseverance in the cage. “I believe that we have to be knocked down,” he admits. “That’s what tests our will, our strength, our ingenuity to be better.”
He credits his spiritual background with helping him overcome the adversity in the first place. “I come from a Christian background,” he informs. “I look at things from a spiritual connection. My dad was a pastor. My dad’s dad was a pastor. Religion is just man’s way of understanding God.” But as might be expected, Newton’s beliefs deviate from what one might expect. “It says in the Bible, God will not give you more than you can bear,’” he notes. “I worship the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords. But I’m not really religious anymore.”
Some of his beliefs, even in the combat sports world where a few men imbibe their own urine and many more ritualistically refrain from sex prior to fight night, strike others as, well, unique. Like a young Louisa May Alcott and the other inhabitants of the nineteenth-century Fruitlands commune, the preacher’s son serves as an evangelist for cold water. “I have been doing cold-water showers for about a year,” Newton, who sweats out a mere four or five pounds before weigh-ins, informs. “I don’t even have hot running water in my house. When you take hot showers, you’re cooking yourself.”
After handling McGeary on Friday night, Newton welcomes a rumored fight against fellow Southern Californian and MMA legend Tito Ortiz. “Nobody has my style. I’m always awkward. I’m always moving weird, looking weird.”
Some just think he’s plain weird.
That unconventional style—relying on spinning strikes, awkward angles, and a bottomless gas tank—carries over outside the cage, or perhaps vice versa. Left to figure out manhood without parents to guide him, Newton created his own template rather than use another’s as guide. Opponents, like observers, don’t know what’s coming next.
And what comes next from Emanuel Newton, like what came before, stimulates the mental circuits he so often sedates when in the cage.
“I wouldn’t take back the worst thing that happened in my life,” the orphan-turned-near-roadkill confesses. “It all made me stronger. If it didn’t happen, I wouldn’t be Emanuel Newton, Bellator World Champion.”