One of NCAA wrestling’s most passionate podcasters has never hidden his allegiance to Penn State but is Josiah Hritsko of Fanco Wrestling’s devotion to Bo Nickal enough to push his fandom into the sport of MMA?
In his days at Penn State, Hritsko’s love for college wrestling exploded. Hobbies seemed to always come back around to college wrestling and the Nittany Lions, in particular. The offseason was almost nonexistent for the future Mr. Fanco.
When the season wrapped up and multiple Nittany Lions would be crowned National champions and All-Americans, Hritsko would have his eyes on the forums, message boards, rankings and recruit sites, not to mention everyday conversation about it all.
One name he spent a lot of time watching, studying and celebrating was Nickal.
“Being at Penn State I always enjoyed watching these newer guys come in,” Hritsko said. “I liked seeing the freshmen come in and then see just how good they were. ‘Is this recruit going to be any good? He may be good but how good?’ In his freshman year, when he just started winning, winning, winning, winning and the margins he was winning by in many cases was very impressive to me, it really stood out.”
In only his freshman year, Nickal made the National finals, where he would lose to Myles Martin of Ohio State, and while Hritsko would have to “settle” for runner-up for one of his new favorite wrestlers, he knew big things were on the horizon, but not to the level he had expected.
“As far as the history of Penn Staters is concerned, he’s my top three Penn Stater of all-time,” Hritsko said enthusiastically. “That’s not just recency bias; that’s based on how good he was in college.”
If pressed for a Top 10 list of NCAA moments Hritsko says Nickal would likely make at least three appearances. He captivated the entire sport, outside of maybe Iowa City, for his entire career, but no match will ever have a place in Hritsko’s heart quite like Nickal’s run in the 2018 NCAA National Championship.
“To set the stage, the team race was between Penn State and Ohio State,” Hritsko said. “Those were the two big teams back in 2018. It was my first National Championship that I got to go to, so I was super stoked about it and it was either going to be Penn State or Ohio State that was going to win the team title.”
With the season on the line, revenge on the line, individual gold on the line and team gold on the line, it was up to Nickal to try and take down the man who halted his freshman run.
“Myles Martin had previously beat Bo two years before at the National Championships,” Hritsko laid out. “Well, Bo came out and in the first period Myles tossed Bo to his back and Bo just straight up rolled through it and stuck Myles Martin in the first period and the arena went wild. The team race was over at that point. He came through in the clutch and he came off the mat and his famous quote is, ‘that’s what we do at Penn State.’”
It was an ending that took two full seasons to unfold in its entirety. A million things needed to come together for the storybook ending, and everything fell into place.
It would be fully understandable for Hritsko to say, “I’ve seen the top of the mountain for Bo Nickal. I’m not an MMA guy, best of luck.” But the Penn State blood runs far too deep. Nickal has taken Hritsko from casual UFC PPV fan to regional MMA diehard who will be following Nickal every step of the way, even if he feels his level of dominance will be all but predictable.
“His senior year he went on to major, pinfall, bonus on just about everybody the entire season and even through the National Championship,” Hritsko said. “The only match in the National Championship he didn’t get a bonus point was in the Finals, and when you’re looking at these All-Americans, these guys who are the best of the best in college wrestling, and Bo Nickal was able to toy with them, essentially, that’s what’s impressive.”
Hritsko will never claim to be an MMA savant or the most knowledgeable guy at a watch party, but he spent enough time watching wrestling and watching Nickal to know that the anybody who fights at 185 pounds is in serious trouble.
“Knowing what I know about Bo, I believe he’ll be the best wrestler in the history of the division because of how dominant he was on the mat,” Hritsko said. “He’s not a guy who’s coming out and winning by a point or two, he’s going out and tossing guys around. He had this strength about him that was kind of funny to see because in college he wasn’t this crazy built guy. He wasn’t the real muscular dude at the weight, but he was able to just toss guys around due to the strength and the technique that he did have. He was going from neutral to tossing guys on their back, he was pretty easily cradling guys up, and he really, truly became one of the best ever wrestlers, not just at Penn State, but in the history of the sport.”
Catch the pro MMA debut of Bo Nickal at iKon FC 3, Friday, June 3, ONLY on UFC FIGHT PASS!