On Saturday, Bo Nickal made his UFC debut against Jamie Pickett in UFC 285. His fight kicked-off the main card, which included two championship fights and the return of arguably the greatest of all time, Jon Jones.
But even with the superstar talent at the top of the card, Nickal had garnered a lot of attention going into the fight. The young fighter was a wrestler for the Penn State Nittany Lions, where he won three Big 10 Conference championships and three NCAA Division I National Championships, including four appearances in the National Championship finals.
Needless to say, Nickal has an impressive resume. It’s what earned him a bout in the prolific UFC so quickly. However, there is room for Nickal to grow, and he’s going to have to take it slow if he wants to see success in the middleweight division.
The Road to the Top
Henry Cejudo, an MMA legend and Olympic gold-medalist in wrestling, said this about Nickal’s performance in UFC 285:
“There’s a huge hype train going around with Bo Nickal. He did win, but I also saw a little difference in him too because he did struggle to get that takedown. MMA wrestling, it is different than NCAA Wrestling. They have to continue to keep building Bo Nickal. If they don’t build Bo Nickal, when they give him somebody tough, Bo Nickal is going to struggle because I saw what I had to see within those first two minutes.”
The former UFC flyweight and bantamweight champion went on to tell Nickal, “I know you have goals to become pound-for-pound. Do I believe you can do it? 100 percent. Anybody that is a wrestler that’s a freestyler as high level as yourself can do it. Take your damn time, bro.”
These are strong words from the MMA legend himself, but they raise a good point. Nickal struggled to take down his opponent Pickett until what looked to be an illegal knee to the groin sufficiently hindered Pickett’s defense. The illegal strike wasn’t called, however, and Nickal finally took Pickett to the ground. After about a minute of grappling, Nickal was able to pull off the submission.
While the performance was dominant, it wasn’t quite as sharp as Nickal’s previous outings in Dana White’s Contender Series. He had difficulty taking the larger Pickett down and his submission grappling wasn’t as threatening as we’ve seen.
So Cejudo seems to be spot on with his assertion that Nickal needs plenty more experience before taking on top opponents. This sentiment has been reflected by Nickal himself, who said he does not want to be fast-tracked to the top.
But the UFC is a business, and their priority is to make money– and to make money fast. They may indeed match Nickal up with a top-10 opponent sooner rather than later. That could be disastrous, as it doesn’t appear Nickal is ready for such opposition. If the UFC isn’t careful, their hype train could be derailed.
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