With a father who was not just a former pro kickboxer and bodybuilder, but a United States Marine Corps veteran, Alex Nicholson wasn’t destined to hit the PGA circuit if he was going to enter the world of sports.
“Golf was frowned upon,” Nicholson laughs. But then again, his father wasn’t too thrilled about his son taking a kickboxing match, especially since the younger Nicholson’s previous experience was on a basketball court, not in a ring.
“I grew up playing basketball,” he said. “In high school, I told my dad I wanted to do a kickboxing match and he’s like ‘you know, these guys came up doing it, just like you came up playing basketball. They’re gonna kick your ass if you think you’re just gonna hop in there and beat somebody who’s been doing it their whole life.’”
Nicholson took the fight anyway. And for most of the bout, things went as expected.
“I took a beating pretty much the whole fight, and then I threw a baseball punch to the kid’s face and knocked him out cold,” Nicholson recalled. “My dad saw it and said ‘If we train you, you could actually be good at this. That was sloppy s**t, but you can fight.’”
On Saturday, Nicholson – who can indeed fight – makes his UFC debut against Misha Cirkunov in Las Vegas. For the light heavyweight from Apopka, Florida, getting that call-up to the big show was something he thought might be coming after his last bout against Chaz Morgan last August. But there was a slight wrench thrown into the works.
“There was talk about the winner of that fight getting a UFC fight, but my jaw was broken about 30 seconds into the fight,” he said. “But I knocked him out four minutes in. After that, my jaw was wired shut for a while. I did a pro boxing match six weeks after jaw surgery and I knocked that guy out and then I was hoping to get a call right away.”
Let’s rewind that last statement a bit. Nicholson breaks his jaw, keeps fighting, knocks his opponent out. Then he has surgery on the jaw, but still fights in a boxing match six weeks later. That sounds like a guy who puts “fighter” under occupation on his tax form every year.
“I took him out quick,” Nicholson said of his boxing match, talking about it like this is something anyone would do without hesitation. “He hit me a few times and my jaw held up good. I wasn’t worried. Just go out there and do the best you can do and try to hit him more than he hits you.”
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Eventually, Nicholson got the call for Saturday’s bout and, not surprisingly, the 25-year-old isn’t too concerned about nerves before the biggest fight of his life.
“I don’t get nervous,” he said. “I fully accept the fact that any man, whether he trains or not, can hit another man and put him down. So I figure, why worry about it and why worry about what he’s gonna do, and try to focus on what I’m gonna do.”
What he’s going to do is try to knock Canada’s Cirkunov out, but if that doesn’t work, he isn’t too worried about going to the mat either. In other words, it’s a fight, and whatever it takes, Nicholson will do it in order to win because he plans on sticking around for a while.
“I always knew that I would be here,” he said. “I don’t do things just to be good at them; I want to be the best. I don’t care if we’re playing ping pong; I’m gonna figure out how to get that spin down and I’m going to be the best ping pong player that there is. My dad always told me, ‘You don’t half-ass anything.’ So if I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna do it.”
But how is his dad taking all of this in?
“He’s happy,” Nicholson said. “He’s telling everybody. We’ll go into Publix and he’ll tell the lady next to us that I’m going to be fighting on FOX Sports 1 February 6.”
It’s a good feeling for “The Spartan,” who did have some questions about where his career would eventually end up after he lost his second pro fight to Mark Inge in April of 2014.
“After my first fight, I was still kind of a cocky kid,” he said. “My second fight, I really didn’t train as much. I was drinking a lot, partying a lot. Then I met my girlfriend (amateur MMA fighter Hannah Goldy), and she was really getting into the sport at the time, and I changed my life around. I quit partying, I quit drinking, and I started really grinding. They say hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard and I really started working hard and bringing out the best in myself and just pushing myself to my limits, and I started destroying people. I feel like she brought out the best in me. She helped me refocus.”
She’s also going to be a permanent part of his life, as Nicholson proposed to his lady just before weighing in for Saturday’s fight. It was quite an introduction to UFC fans. But as far as he’s concerned, this is only the beginning.
“It’s really cool to feel the hard work is paying off,” Nicholson said. “But I haven’t done anything yet. I’m not a UFC fighter until I fight in the UFC. I don’t care to hear those things until my hand is raised. It’s cool, but it’s not as cool as it’s gonna be. I’ve got big, big plans and I can’t wait to show the world what I do.”