Bo Nickal may be the next big thing in the UFC, but that doesn’t mean the highly touted prospect is above some constructive criticism.
Ahead of his win at UFC 285 this past weekend, Nickal was one of the most talked about fighters on the card despite the fact that he was making his octagon debut. Since signing with the UFC after just three pro bouts and a trio of NCAA wrestling championships, the 27-year-old Penn State alum has gone as far as suggesting that he could take out top middleweights like Israel Adesanya.
One-time UFC title challenger and current Ultimate Fighter coach Michael Chandler definitely understands the hype surrounding Nickal, but he also suggests that now is the time to get experience in the cage rather than more reps on the microphone.
“I think Bo Nickal has an exponential opportunity and exponential growth and exponential potential in this sport,” Chandler said during UFC 285. “I think Bo can do awesome, awesome things. I think Bo will do awesome things. He’s got the talent, and obviously at this point he hasn’t been very shy on the microphone. That would be the second thing I would say: I think it’s a little bit unbecoming to come into the UFC off The Contender Series and start talking about Khamzat Chimaev and fighting Jon Jones or whoever.
“I think Bo’s getting a little bit too talky for the average fan’s liking. If it were me or his manager, I’d say, ‘Hey, let’s keep our nose to the grindstone. Let’s knock them down when they put them in front of us.’”
Responding to Chandler’s comments, Nickal didn’t lash out but rather appreciated that a veteran like that is already paying attention to his career. He didn’t take any offense to what was said.
“Thank you – I think there’s a lot of wisdom in that statement,” Nickal said on The MMA Hour. “I think Michael Chandler is a fan of me. I think Michael Chandler wants me to win. First off he said my potential is exponential. So let’s listen to what he’s actually saying. He’s talking about it in the perspective of the fans. If I say, ‘Yo, give me Khamzat, I’ll violate this guy,’ 99 percent of MMA fans are going to say, ‘Bo Nickal is an idiot.’ They don’t know what they’re talking about.
“That’s the perspective I think Chandler is taking, especially when I hear you read the quote, he’s not hating on me at all. He’s not even a guy that I don’t think would do that, because he’s always been cool to me. He’s always been nice to me. He’s a wrestler.”
Nickal understands that Chandler wasn’t necessarily chastising him for bad behavior just because he’s showing confidence in his skills as a fighter.
Instead, Nickal believes Chandler was just looking at his fast rise and the attention being paid to him through the perspective of the fans, who might not be as receptive to a fighter at his level of experience calling out the best in the world competing in the UFC.
“First off, a guy that’s as big as Michael Chandler is, is talking about a guy that just made his UFC debut,” Nickal said. “That’s a big deal but second, I don’t feel like he’s trying to put me down.
“I think that’s just how he sees it. He’s not saying, ‘Bo, slow your roll, Khamzat would smash you.’ He’s saying if you say these things, the fans are going to perceive it in a certain way, which is true.”
Because there’s been so much hype built around his arrival in the UFC, Nickal knows there are probably already unrealistic expectations weighing on his shoulders, whether he likes it or not.
On Saturday night, Nickal dispatched Jamie Pickett in relatively easy fashion with a first-round submission to move his record to 4-0 as a pro. Thus far, Nickal hasn’t gone past the three-minutes in any of his fights, but he’s already expecting to hear about it when he finally sees the second round.
“I swear as soon as I go in the second round, ‘Oh this dude’s a hype train, this dude sucks,” Nickal said. “I haven’t been hit one time. I’m going to get leg kicked. I’m going to calf-kicked once and I’m going to finish the dude, and everybody’s going to say, ‘See, he sucks.’ That’s what’s going to happen.”
Nickal seems to be taking it all in stride while keeping his real focus on the task at hand.
Following a successful debut, he’s looking towards another marquee card for his next appearance, although maybe he’s already listening to Chandler’s advice by leaving the opponent up to the matchmakers.
“Whoever’s trying to get smashed,” Nickal said when asked if there was a name he wanted to call out. “International Fight Week, maybe August at the latest. That’s my mind right now.”