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Chris Oth | Knuckle Junkies

Newman's New Journey

By Brett Auten | Knuckle Junkies

If Damian Newman wants to be the example, he's fine with that.

He's willing to be that guy.

A tainted blood test for Hepatitis C on the eve of his pro debut put the one-time STL MMA Amateur of the Year into a proverbial tailspin.

Some 30 months later, Newman, with a clean bill of health, returns to the cage Saturday at Shamrock FC: No Mercy when he faces Mark Chappel in the featured bout of the undercard at Lumiere Casino.

"I, more than anything, want to raise the awareness," Newman said. "I never knew that I had it. Had no idea at all. I was totally healthy. I had been to the doctor, I had given blood at blood drives, I had fought almost 20 fights, had children, and none of these things said, hey, you have hepatitis."

It was week before he was to meet Malshon Ball in March of 2014 and Newman was feeling tip top. He submitted his blood work and soon received a phone call. He was asked to come in, which wasn't the normal. When told the results he was obviously devastated, blown away. He immediately got a re-test. Same result.

"I have a very good idea of when I got it," Newman said. "Right before I started getting into fighting I used drugs and I could put my money on it that's where I got it. Just a short stint, not very long at all, changed my whole life and I had it for six or seven years."

Like a riffle card shuffle, his mind fired through the bloody noses in sparring, the mutually crimson covered throwdowns for promotions big and small all across the region.

"It could have been that easy to ruin someone's life for something I had no idea that I could set in motion," Newman said. "My first thought was my little brothers and how many times sparing, or training, or rolling and we bled. I could have ruined their career, their life before it even started and that was stinging."

Since Newman's suspension, Spire Sanctioning pushed forward a new rule that started earlier this year that will require all amateur fighters under their sanctioning to have a blood test on file.

"Whenever Spire came out with the new rule of amateurs getting tested I somewhat feel that it's because of me," Newman said. "Either way, I commend them for doing that because It's too easy to not know that you can spread this."

The focus turned for living a better life, not getting back into competition. The doctors told Newman the fighting in his future would be out of the question.

"I had to grapple with not fighting, and not training, and not being part of the gym," Newman said. "My little brothers, they both fight, and it was hard for me to distance myself from my own career and now I'm a spectator, and now I'm a mentor, and I have to help coach, which was all new and really hard to do."

Newman dove right into the recovery process, buying up over the counter supplements like liver aid, cleaning up the diet, and upping the water intake. His body started fighting back and the chance of a return, once a fairy tale, now had a chance. Newman immersed himself into literature about the disease and spoke often with doctors, who relieved many of his concerns, especially when it came to transmitting the disease, and with that, he set his sights towards work and all that comes with being a new dad.

"I got to cope, accept, and work," Newman said.

It was late February of this year when Newman, during one of his stops at his Hepatitis C specialist at Mercy's when all of Newman's blood test and labs came back negative.

His return was imminent.

***

Newman, 26 and father of two, moved to Arnold in high school. He was never into any sports or much of anything at all. The affable and gangly teenager pretty much kept to himself.

"I was that kid that came in and slept, did his work and left," Newman said. "I never got into anything extra curricular. I did my stuff and went home. But at the same time I never shied away from a fight and I was never one to back down."

Newman's mother and two younger brothers cemented an iron-strong bond. Damian is three years older than Jason and Jason is 16 months older than Eric. All of which has seen time inside the cage and Eric is a local belt holder.

"My dad was always absent so it was definitely always us," he said. "We were always together."

Newman eventually turned his eye toward MMA. He spent a night in the corner of his close friend, and current local pro, Gary Becker. A few weeks later, the 19-year-old Newman was in his first fight at Scooter's II, a tavern in Poplar Bluff. He was taught a basic bridge minutes before the fight. Seven seconds into it he used it to get top position and then a TKO victory.

He spent the next few years in and out of the sport, scrabbling together training and working masonry, doing tuckpointing and brick laying.

"I always work with my dad and it's good to spend time with him," Newman said. "Work is something that I've always enjoyed."

Once back in the sport he fought recklessly often, notching six bouts during one seven week stretch. Newman didn't make it into a gym or have any actual coaching stability until 2011-12 at Fearless Fighters ran by Frank Fischer. The stay there was short lived and when Mike Green opened up SouthSide Fight Club, Newman, just into his 20s, made a be-line for it. Green had carved out a respectable following in St. Louis and Newman looks back fondly on the two-a-days with teammates and the different local pros swinging through, looking for extra work.

"That was probably the best run that I have had just because of how gritty it was." Newman said. "Everyone was there to work. We weren't there to talk about the latest stuff going on in the fight world. We weren't there to water-cooler it up. We were there to work and sweat hard. "

In April, 2012, Newman fought Fierce Taylor at Fight Me MMA in an epic bout. The fight won the pair STL MMA Amateur Fight of the Year.

"That was what really put me on the map," Newman said. "I had fought a couple decent, middle of the pack guys but no one like Fierce yet. Fierce's opponent dropped out and they needed someone at like, 10-days notice or something like that. I didn't have time to over-think it. I just said yes, trained hard, and went out there and put on what everybody says is one of the greatest ammy fights they had ever seen. It ended up as a draw. I really think I could have won the fight. But I definitely owe a lot to that. That was one of (Fight Me/Fight Hard's) biggest shows ever and one of the top three ever at the Family Arena. But I definitely owe a lot to that."

A stellar 2013 saw Newman post a 5-0 record while taking out some serious competition along the way.

It started with Andrew Berger at Shamrock FC where he won a unanimous decision. He registered another SFC UD, this time against AJ Siscoe and then he tallied a KO over Jake Trigleth. July brought the much-talked about battle with Ira Lukowsky. Lukowsky, considered the top of the bantamweight, pushed Newman to the brink only to get submitted in the third. It snagged Newman his second consecutive STL MMA Amateur Fight of the Year award.

Newman tested the waters at flyweight against Matt Murphy at an October Nemesis Fighting Alliance. His grappling gave him the edge again as Newman showed off his improving submission skills with a second round arm triangle victory.

***

After the closing of the SouthSide Fight Club at the early part of 2013, Newman made the switch to Berger's Fit or Fight MMA . Newman had thrived on having tricky submissions, the ability to stand in pocket and go for broke, and difficult to put away. But in order to further himself in the sport he knew the ground game needed shoring up and Berger's was the ideal location for him.

Turning pro will likely happen some time this year. He will eventually end up at 125, where his length and range will be something of an anomaly in a division filled with fireplugs.

He looks at what happened to him as a positive. Had he not gotten into MMA, there is no telling how late in life he would have learned about the disease.

It has also motivated him to get behind the Stop Heroin cause, which is a wellness program who's mission is to educate the community on the dangers of heroin, and prevent initiation of use.

"You wouldn't think about it, but places like Arnold and suburbia, it's an epidemic," Newman said. "It's really bad among kids as young as 15 and adults as old as 50. It doesn't discriminate. It doesn't care if you're rich or poor. It doesn't care if you have a good job or bad job. If you're homeless or if you have five houses. And these kids, especially around my neighborhood, are dying. And at a higher rate than anything else. A lot of these kids just don't understand that it's just one time and your done or in my case, one time and you can ruin your whole life."

Chapter Two, or his 'new journey' as he likes to call it, begins Saturday. The Lumiere will be filled to capacity and in Chappel, he has an adversary who has been around for nearly as long as he has and they have seen each other fight many times.

"He's the kind of guy who likes to bring it," Newman said. "He's not going to try and win on points or skate to a decision. I just want to take it right to him and get the ball rolling. He's one of those guys you can't take lightly. It's a fight that's good for both of us."

But for now, for this week, he's looking forward to the nervousness that comes with a fight week.

"This is going to be a litmus test for me," Newman said. "I have those nerves and those butterfly feelings, and that anxiousness of almost like my first fight. It's been so long, I just want to do it. I want to go weigh in, I'm looking forward to cutting weight. Not being able to go through those emotions was really tough."

Shamrock FC: No Mercy can be viewed via PPV at shamrockfightingchampionships.com

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