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Bo Nickal confident he could win 2024 Olympic gold medal in wrestling, but he’s ‘all-in on MMA’

Bo Nickal hasn’t forgotten his roots.

A three-time NCAA Division I champion, Nickal is one of the most decorated collegiate wrestlers of his generation, a one-time Big Ten Athlete of the Year and 2019 Dan Hodge Trophy winner. Nickal has since moved on to greener pastures. He’s widely considered one of the top prospects in combat sports and makes his UFC debut against Jamie Pickett on March 4 at UFC 285. But if he wanted to pivot back to his first love, Nickal is confident he could retake the mats and fulfill his Olympic dreams at the 2024 Summer Games.

“I think honestly, right now, if I just focused on wrestling and was all-in, that I would make the team and probably win the gold medal,” Nickal said recently on The MMA Hour.

“But it’s just, I feel like I’m past that point in my life, where I’ve kind of just readjusted my goals and changed my outlook and perspective. And I feel okay not pursuing that and just being all-in on MMA. And it’s hard and stuff, but I just feel way more passionate about MMA, and I don’t want to chase two things at the same time. If I’m going to do something, I’m going to be all-in with it.”

Nickal, 27, has made the most of his MMA run so far. He’s a perfect 3-0 as a pro with three first-round stoppages, the last two of which came at the UFC’s Contender Series.

As a blue-chip prospect, Nickal has lived up to the hype. That’s a big reason why he’s getting prime positioning for his octagon debut, opening up a pay-per-view headlined by the return of one of the greatest fighters of all-time, as Jon Jones makes his heavyweight debut against Ciryl Gane for the vacant heavyweight title in UFC 285’s main event.

“Man, it’s huge,” Nickal said. “I look at Jon Jones as obviously one of the legends. A lot of stock in him and [he has an] argument as the GOAT. A lot of people think he’s the greatest of all-time. And just to be opening up a main card with him as the main event is a very cool place to be at in my UFC debut. So obviously the goal for me is eventually to be headlining and be the main event myself, on pay-per-views, but for now it’s very exciting and I feel very grateful and appreciative to be in the position that I am and have this opportunity.”

Nickal will likely be a massive betting favorite against Pickett, who enters the bout off two consecutive losses and having dropped four of his six UFC appearances.

But Nickal is quick to note that he isn’t taking his debut opponent lightly.

“I think you always have to go into a fight concerned,” Nickal said. “I think if you are too relaxed and taking it for granted and overlooking people, then that’s a recipe for disaster. So for me, I would say I’m very concerned, very aware of everything that he’s going to bring. I watch a ton of film and I feel like I’m fully prepared for anything that he has ready for me. And with that being said, I’m very confident and I know what I’m going to do out there.

“I expect to finish him in the first round — and if that doesn’t happen, finish him in a second, and if that doesn’t happen, I’ll finish him in the third. But he’s not making it 15 full minutes, I’m confident in that. But I think there’s always room for concern whenever you’re going into a fight, no matter what.”

Of course, Nickal is also aware of the sizable expectations on his shoulders as he kicks off the next chapter of his MMA journey. Many have predicted him to be a future champion.

He’s been dealing with those same expectations dating all the way to his college career, so now that his moment to perform is here, Nickal wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I definitely do [feel them],” he said. “I wouldn’t say I put that pressure on myself because of what I’ve done in the past. It’s not necessarily like, ‘Oh, I’ve finished all these guys in the first round. I have to keep this going.’ It’s more like, that’s just what I expect every time, no matter what. Anytime I would go out to a wrestling match, I expected to pin the guy. And anytime I’m going out to a fight, I’m expecting to finish the guy.

“If things don’t go exactly as — I’m not putting all my eggs in one basket. And I see some guys that go out and it’s like, guns blazing for three minutes and then they’re done. And it’s like, I’m too smart to do that. So that’s not going to be a strategy for me in fighting but I just feel very capable and very dangerous in a lot of different positions, and I think I have the ability to finish the fight wherever it goes. And so with that, I think the expectations for a finish are on me. That’s just the expectation for myself every time I compete.”

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