Bo Nickal may not have made his UFC debut, but he still likes his chances against the two top middleweights in the world, UFC champ Alex Pereira and ex-champ Israel Adesanya.
“I’m not going to say [that’s an] easy fight, because [Pereira] is dangerous. But as far as styles go, that’s a great matchup for me,” Nickal said Wednesday on The MMA Hour.
“I’ve watched their fight a couple times and the grappling, you know — the striking exchanges are super impressive, that goes without saying. They’re absolutely elite strikers. But when they get ahold of each other, it’s just almost funny. Like, I’m laughing at how they’re moving and what they’re doing and stuff. And maybe they feel that way about me when I’m hitting pads and hitting the bag and stuff. But I just feel like, if I grabbed ahold of either of those guys, it wouldn’t go well for them. And I think everybody knows that, so that’s not something that’s a shocking statement or that’s pretty outlandish, in my opinion.”
Nickal, 27, is one of the most highly-touted prospects in all of combat sports. The American ranks among the most decorated NCAA wrestlers of all-time, a three-time Division I champion. He also has looked unstoppable thus far in his brief MMA career, winning his first three professional bouts in less than a combined three minutes, the last two of which came on the UFC’s Contender Series. Many have already hailed Nickal as a future UFC champion.
He’s still at the beginning of his UFC journey, though. Nickal is currently slated to make his octagon debut against Jamie Pickett on March 4 at UFC 285.
Pickett, of course, is a far cry from Pereira and Adesanya, both of whom are unanimously ranked as the top 185-pound fighters in the world, with a host of highlight-reel wins over top competition shared between them. But that doesn’t lessen Nickal’s confidence about how he’d fare against either man, especially as he continues to gain more in-cage experience.
“I think that the more that I experience MMA, the more experience I get in sparring and things like that, you just understand the range a little better, you understand when you’re in danger. And the reality is, whenever I’m fighting a guy who’s a striker, they have all the anxiety. I have none,” Nickal said. “Like, if they’re going to knock me out, they’ve got to either catch me coming in somehow, which is incredibly difficult to do, or walk me down and hope I don’t take them down as that’s going on. So it’s just like, I have all the advantage in the pace of how the fight goes and just controlling the distance and that type of thing.
“In reality, I’m not going to sit here and stand in front of you in a 50-50 situation and let you kick me in the head. I’m either going to be in or out, right? And I know I have good enough cardio and good enough pace that I can do that for 25 minutes if I need to, on top of the fact that once I do grab you and get ahold you, you’re going to be gassed out, you’re going to be done. And that’s just if you survive, and if you don’t get strangled or don’t get beat up too badly and the ref stops it.
“So, in my opinion, there’s going to be that danger of like, hey, I lean in and lean the wrong way and get hit. But the more experience I get, the less likely that’s going to happen.”
Despite his confidence, Nickal noted that he’s not actually in a rush to be fast-tracked to the top of the UFC middleweight division. He wants to take his time and approach his career the right way, and he knows that putting in the hard work and continuing to improve and develop is the most important goal on his docket this early into his MMA run.
That being said, if the UFC wants to strap him to a rocket ship straight to contention after UFC 285, he’s confident he’ll be ready to handle whatever challenges get thrown his way.
“It’s not crazy at all. I feel like there’s absolutely a path,” Nickal said. “And I think that for me, I can look at it two ways. One, there’s an easy path to the title where I could fight three or four times and get there. But my goal isn’t to win the belt and then be done, right?
“I want to be the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet. And so if I do have to go up against other guys that have strong grappling styles, stuff like that, I’m OK with that, and that’s why I train as hard as I do, why put the time in, and why I want to get better at everything in the sport, because my goal isn’t to just take what I’ve done and kind of use that and get to the top that way, right?
“Obviously I’m always going to take advantage of that, but I want to make sure that I round out my game and that I can absolutely beat anyone on the planet, regardless of what their style is. And so I’m working every day to improve every aspect of my game. With that being said, every single time I go into a fight, we’re wrestling. And that’s always going to be something that I’m taking advantage of.”