Bo Nickal hasn’t forgotten his roots.
A three-time NCAA Division I champion, Nickal is one of the most decorated collegiate wrestlers of his generation, a one-time Big Ten Athlete of the Year and 2019 Dan Hodge Trophy winner. Nickal is now in a new place. He’s widely considered one of the top prospects in combat sports and makes his UFC debut against Jamie Pickett on March 4 at UFC 285. Nickal believes he can return to his love and fulfil his Olympic dream at the 2024 Winter Games if he chooses.
” I think that if I focused solely on wrestling, and wasn’t all in, I could make it to the team and win the gold medal,” Nickal stated recently on The MMA Hour ..
“But it’s just, I feel like I’m past that point in my life, where I’ve kind of just readjusted my goals and changed my outlook and perspective. It’s okay to not pursue that goal and focus on MMA. It’s not easy, it’s difficult, but I feel more passionate about MMA than I do other things. I can’t chase too many things simultaneously. If I’m going to do something, I’m going to be all-in with it.”
Nickal, 27, has made the most of his MMA run so far. He’s a perfect 3-0 as a pro with three first-round stoppages, the last two of which came at the UFC’s Contender Series.
Nickal is a promising blue-chip prospect who has delivered on the promises. That’s a big reason why he’s getting prime positioning for his octagon debut, opening up a pay-per-view headlined by the return of one of the greatest fighters of all-time, as Jon Jones makes his heavyweight debut against Ciryl Gane for the vacant heavyweight title in UFC 285’s main event.
“Man it is huge,” Nickal stated. “I look at Jon Jones as obviously one of the legends. He is a great man and the [he has an] argument of being the GOAT. A lot of people think he’s the greatest of all-time. It’s a great place to make my UFC debut. So obviously the goal for me is eventually to be headlining and be the main event myself, on pay-per-views, but for now it’s very exciting and I feel very grateful and appreciative to be in the position that I am and have this opportunity.”
Nickal is likely to be the overwhelming betting favourite against Pickett. Pickett has lost two straight and had dropped four of six UFC fights.
But Nickal quickly points out that Nickal doesn’t take his opponent lightly.
“I think you always have to go into a fight concerned,” Nickal said. I think being too relaxed, taking things for granted and overlooking people is a recipe to disaster. So for me, I would say I’m very concerned, very aware of everything that he’s going to bring. I watch a ton of film and I feel like I’m fully prepared for anything that he has ready for me. These things aside, I feel confident that I will do what is best for me out there.
“I expect to finish him in the first round — and if that doesn’t happen, finish him in a second, and if that doesn’t happen, I’ll finish him in the third. But he’s not making it 15 full minutes, I’m confident in that. But I think there’s always room for concern whenever you’re going into a fight, no matter what.”
Nickal knows that he has a lot of expectations as he begins the next chapter in his MMA career. Many have predicted him to be a future champion.
He’s been dealing with those same expectations dating all the way to his college career, so now that his moment to perform is here, Nickal wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I definitely do [feel them],” he said. He said, “I would not say that I placed this pressure on myself due to what I have done in the past. This is not like saying, “Oh, I finished all of these guys in my first round.” I have to keep this going.’ It’s more like, that’s just what I expect every time, no matter what. Every time I went to a wrestle match, I was expecting to win. And anytime I’m going out to a fight, I’m expecting to finish the guy.
“If things don’t go exactly as — I’m not putting all my eggs in one basket. And I see some guys that go out and it’s like, guns blazing for three minutes and then they’re done. It’s almost like I am too intelligent to do this. This is not my strategy in fighting, but it’s something I feel capable of doing. I also feel dangerous in many different positions and have the potential to win the fight. And so with that, I think the expectations for a finish are on me. This is my expectation every time I compete