Enjoy the Bo Nickal experience while you can, as a former Hodge Trophy winner turned fighter says this could be one of the last times we experience something like it.
With most of Ben Askren’s popularity coming in the MMA world, some people familiar with the Funky one know he’s a National Champion but likely don’t know the difference between that and an All-American. For broad strokes purposes,Askren was a better wrestler than all your favorite mixed martial artists, and it really wasn’t even close.
Wrestlers as highly touted as Askren rarely venture away from the sport, but for him and a couple others, the moment swept him up and away from wrestling.
“In the 2004-2008 era, wrestling was making no money and MMA was just catching on,” Askren said. “I know when I was in college, that was my era. The Ultimate Fighter just came out and fighting was getting really popular, and I know there were a lot of wrestlers that said, ‘s***, I want to do that.’ I know for me, I said, ‘I want to do that; that looks like fun.’”
There are obviously exceptions to the theory but, for the most part, accomplished wrestlers find fun in success on the mat and not in the cage. It’s highly unlikely a multiple-time Hodge Trophy winner will ever jump straight into MMA again.
Another motivator for Askren was money. A lot has changed in both NCAA wrestling and Olympic wrestling since Askren’s heyday, and wrestlers of Nickal and Askren’s ability will likely never feel boxed in financially again.
“In 2008, Henry (Cejudo), Daniel (Cormier) and myself decided to make the jump to mixed martial arts and we obviously had high levels of success, but since then, though, a lot of the elite college wrestlers have been able to stay in international wrestling,” Askren said. “I loved wrestling also, but when I left college there was no way to make a full-time living in just wrestling and I didn’t want to be poor.”
Askren’s not saying wrestlers won’t ever find their way into MMA ever again. The two sports are linked together too strongly for there to be zero wrestlers represented in the cage,but there won’t be many more Bo Nickals coming into the sport this early.
There’s a lot to say about the Nickals of the future and it’s always easy to play the hypotheticals, but as far as pro MMA debuts, Askren theorizes that outside of BJJ standouts crossing over, it might be one of the most-hyped debuts of all time.
As a lifelong wrestler, one of the most successful mixed martial artists of all time and a gym owner right in the heart of wrestling country, it would take a lot to get Ben Askren out of his seat these days, but Nickal just might be the guy to do it. And with the newfound money in the sport of wrestling, it just may be the last time a Hodge Trophy winner will throw the NCAA on his back and dive straight into the cage.
If it is the last time we see it, Nickal is definitely capable of making it a ride to remember.
“As a wrestler, he was highly entertaining,” Nickal said. “He wrestled from all positions, so he was someone that everyone enjoyed. He had an appetite for risk and was generally successful taking those risks.”
Catch Bo Nickal’s pro MMA debut at iKon FC 3, ONLY on UFC FIGHT PASS!