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Bo Nickal prepares to fight Zachary Borrego in a middleweight fight during Dana White's Contender Series season six, week three at UFC APEX on August 09, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Bo Nickal Was Born For This

Middleweight Bo Nickal Is Ready To Shine In His UFC Debut Against Jamie Pickett At UFC 285 

Practically born on the wrestling mats, Bo Nickal’s path was seemingly set – high school, college, Olympics, done. But from the time he was terrorizing his fellow wrestlers as a fifth and sixth grader, there was a fighter inside of him that got unleashed far from the eyes of teachers, coaches and parents.

“I lived in New Mexico and I would wrestle at youth tournaments there, and it would be a little sketchy,” said Nickal. “You would be at a high school in a rougher area, and you'd wrestle your matches, and then in the back, we'd find a hallway where none of the parents were, and we would just fight back there. So you'd wrestle first round, and then you'd go fight, and then you'd wrestle second round, and then you'd go fight.”

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And Nickal loved it.

“That just spoke to me right away,” he said. “I was like, dang, I love this fighting stuff, it’s really fun. I just feel like it's kind of in me.”

Wrestling almost went as planned. A stellar high school career (record 183-7) led to a scholarship to Penn State University, where he continued to dominate. By the time his collegiate career ended, he was a three-time Division I National champion, the 2019 winner of the Dan Hodge Trophy, and seemingly destined to wrestle for the United States in the Olympics. That dream was shattered, but a new one began.

Guess where?

Bo Nickal, Part 1 | Dana White’s Contender Series: Next Level
Bo Nickal, Part 1 | Dana White’s Contender Series: Next Level

“I always was a fan of the sport, fan of the UFC,” said Nickal. “And so, in my mind, that was always in the back of my mind, even while I was wrestling, that transitioning to MMA could be something that I do. And then about halfway through college, I decided that I'm doing MMA, no matter what. I just continued to think about it more and I knew once I'm done wrestling, I'm fighting.”

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On Saturday, Nickal makes his UFC debut against middleweight veteran Jamie Pickett. It’s a UFC 285 main card bout that’s received a lot of attention simply because the 27-year-old Colorado native has done a lot to get noticed for someone with only three pro MMA fights. But that spotlight is nothing he isn’t used to.

“I have thousands and thousands of battle-tested competitions where I'm in the fire,” said Nickal. “Obviously, it's different getting punched and stuff, but I think people underestimate how physical wrestling actually is. It's basically a real controlled fight out there. And I've been doing this since I was six. So, with that being said, I don't think anybody has as many competition reps as me. A lot of people say, ‘Oh, he's 3-0, he's never fought anybody.’ I've been doing this since I was a little kid.”

Bo Nickal arrives for UFC 285 fight week, March 2023 (Photo by Kaylie Foster/Zuffa LLC)

Bo Nickal arrives for UFC 285 fight week, March 2023 (Photo by Kaylie Foster/Zuffa LLC)

And when he did make the move from the mat to the cage, he’s looked more than ready for the next chapter of his athletic career. First, there was a 33-second knockout of John Noland in his pro debut last June, and that was followed by a pair of wins on Dana White’s Contender Series that earned him his UFC contract. Those victories over Zachary Borrego and Donovan Beard lasted a combined one minute and 54 seconds. With those kinds of performances over regional level competition, it was clear that the only logical step was the UFC, where he believes the winning – and dominance – will continue.

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“My ultimate goal in the UFC is to be UFC champ, the pound-for-pound number one fighter in the world,” Nickal said. “So I see myself cleaning out the ‘85 division and eventually, towards the end of my career, probably moving up to 205, taking a second belt and retiring healthy and with a lot of money. So that's the plan. For me, the most important thing is to go out there and compete to the best of my ability and achieve those goals.”

The first step is Pickett, a 21-fight veteran with six UFC bouts under his belt. The North Carolina product’s Octagon record isn’t the most impressive at 2-4, but he’s been in with tough competition and owns wins over Laureano Staropoli and Joseph Holmes. He also knows that derailing the Nickal hype train would be career-altering for him.

Bo Nickal Fight Week Interview | UFC 285
Bo Nickal Fight Week Interview | UFC 285

“He has a lot of experience when you look at strengths,” said Nickal of his foe. “He's had over 20 MMA fights, he's been in the UFC for a while, and he's fought tough guys. So he knows what it's like to be in there with the lights on and the pressure, and you definitely can't underestimate somebody that has that. And he's definitely got power and he's athletic, so there are a lot of things that I think pose a threat to me and that is a real challenge and something that I need to overcome.”

So what happens on Saturday night?

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“My fight at UFC 285 is going to be a first round-finish, so I'll get it however it comes,” said Nickal, not mincing words. “It's kind of just a natural thing for me. I think I'm a natural born finisher. In college, I pinned a lot of guys and I think at MMA I'm going to finish a lot of guys. It doesn't have to happen that way. I can obviously go 15 minutes and my cardio's great, but I don't see it getting past the first round. I think I'm just too dangerous and there's just a lot of different ways that I can put 'em away. So whatever that is, whether it's with the hands, whether I knock 'em clean out, whether I submit 'em on the ground, ground-and-pounding him, cut him, there's just too many ways for me to do it. And so I don't see it going past five minutes.”

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