Bo Nickal went from rival to friend of the Dean Family after defeating Gabe at the 2017 NCAA Finals and then Max, later on in his career, before becoming training partners who share the Nittany Lions wrestling room.
If there was ever anybody able to identify and point out any of the reasons to dislike Nickal, it would be somebody from the Dean Family. But for as many reasons as 2022 National champion Max Dean would have to hate Nickal, he has found significantly more reasons to love him.
You would think that after Nickal dethroned his brother and beat him, Dean would avoid interaction with his rival. But even if he would have tried, Nickal beat him to the punch when Dean became a Nittany Lion.
“We’re good friends,” Dean said. “I look up to him a lot with what he’s done in his career and just the kind of person he is. I was new to Penn State last year and he was somebody who had competed against my brother a few times and I had actually wrestled him back in college a while ago, and he was still really open. He welcomed me with open arms and he’s just overall a good dude.”
Of course there never actually was any disdain for the three-time National champion and Dean has always been happy to work with Nickal. Dean knows that Nickal is as likable as he is talented, and that he couldn’t hold winning against the Hodge Trophy winner.
Dean actually observed that as much of a niche sport as wrestling still is in most circles, Nickal walks around the Penn State grounds with as much praise and respect as Todd Blackledge in the 80s. In a sport most people on a college campus can’t name half the lineup, Nickal always stood out as a winner.
“He’s done a lot of winning,” Dean said. “It seems a little normal around here because we’re at Penn State and there’s been so many college wrestlers here who have won multiple National titles, but Bo Nickal is one of the most dominant college wrestlers in recent history by far. He’s been so good for so long and he’s always giving thanks and talking about his faith and being positive.”
Dean feels that his likability, his skills and even his willingness to “play the game” and engage in some trash talk, will take him just as far in MMA as it did in NCAA wrestling.
There’s no equivalent to a Hodge Trophy in MMA but Nickal has already spoke of a future jump to the light heavyweight division, so being a champion in two divisions is on the table and he has plenty of time to win and defend a title at middleweight.
It may be tough to capture the exact same aura Nickal carries through the halls of Penn State, but from what Dean sees in him, there’s no reason to bet against it.
“Some people just have that ‘it’ factor and that charisma and that’s something Bo definitely has,” Dean said. “He’s somebody that absolutely believes he’s going to win every time he steps out on the mat. That’s why he’s going to be really fun to follow throughout MMA because he’s going to do a lot of winning, and in cool ways, too. He’s not a guy who wants to go out there and play it safe and win by a decision. He wants to end the match or end the fight. He’s a beast. He’s going to be phenomenal.”
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