Las Vegas, NV — It’s been a bit of a topsy-turvy week so far for Bo Nickal, taking part in his very first International Fight Week.
Nickal (4-0), a decorated wrestler and one of the hottest prospects to enter the UFC in years, had been expected to face The Ultimate Fighter 29 alum Tresean Gore at UFC 290 this weekend. With Gore out due to injury — unpleasant news that greeted Nickal during training this past Monday — everything was very much in the air.
Eventually, another undefeated prospect in Val Woodburn accepted the fight, keeping Nickal on what is expected to be one of the biggest UFC events of 2023. But, the 27-year old admitted during Wednesday’s media day, he was not without his reservations.
“There were concerns, just because for me, initially, I felt like I’m not the type of guy to do last minute switch-ups and stuff,” Nickal told media outlets including Cageside Press. “I’m very calculated, planned, and I felt like a little unsure of what to do.”
As he talked it over with his team, however, things became a little more clear. “I’m just very fortunate to have a great team, they kind of led me in the right direction,” said Nickal. “And I trust those people. At the end of the day, I made the decision for what we’re going to do. But I’m just always trying to build my reputation. It doesn’t really matter who I’m fighting, I’m just going out there to do my best.”
Nickal admits that his career in fighting, now just 13 months old, has been a quicker rise than even he anticipated. But as he put it, “we’re here, and I’m excited. I’m looking to make the most of every single opportunity I get.”
The opportunity Nickal has here is a different one, mind you. Woodburn is a little known name, and fans will expect Nickal to, quite frankly, mop the floor with the UFC newcomer. “He doesn’t have anything to lose. Even if he loses, he might be in the UFC after this,” noted Nickal, asked about his replacement opponent. But for Nickal, “competing against people that have nothing to lose is nothing new. I’ve been doing that since I was a little kid. When I was 8, 9, 10 years old, I felt like that’s how people competed against me. So I have thousands of competition reps that way.” College went much the same way, added Nickal, “and they still lost.”
It’s been a while, in fact, since Nickal was an underdog. So long he doesn’t quite remember. “I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know the last time I was an underdog. Probably my sophomore year in college. That year, I made the NCAA finals, I was competing against the number one pound-for-pound guy in the NCAA, he had a 70-match win streak or so. And so that’s the last match I think of as far as me being the underdog, where people thought I wasn’t going to win.” Not all people, mind you. “A lot of my buddies made bets on that and won a lot of money.”
On Saturday, Nickal will be one of the biggest favorites in UFC history. “It’s pretty crazy,” admitted Nickal, before adding “it makes sense to me. I think the math checks out.”
On a different track, Nickal recently switched to the other side of the table, conducting an interview with UFC flyweight champ and fellow UFC 290 star Brandon Moreno. That’s something Nickal is hoping to do more of, he told Cageside Press.
“Yeah absolutely. I just really appreciate learning anything, but especially about mindset,” Nickal explained. “Mindset is something that is super interesting to me, and how people deal with pressure and perform, and what they do day in and day out to just be who they are.” With that in mind, Nickal is starting a new podcast with Betr, so it seems he’ll have plenty of opportunities moving forward — when he’s not fighting, of course.
Watch the full UFC 290 media day appearance by Bo Nickal above.