Penn State Wrestling

EXCLUSIVE: Penn State Wrestling Legend Bo Nickal on Upcoming UFC Fight, If He Could Beat Cael Sanderson, More

Bo Nickal is one of the greatest wrestlers in the illustrious history of the Penn State Wrestling program, and has gone on to become one of the most feared competitors in the UFC’s Octagon.

Nickal is currently 4-0 as an ultimate fighter, ahead of his upcoming bout at UFC-290 against newcomer Val Woodburn, at the Pay Per View Main Event, live from Las Vegas.

Ahead of Saturday night’s fight, Nickal sat down with NittanyCentral  to preview the fight, and lend his perspective on what has made Penn State such a historically Wrestling dominant program:

NittanyCentral: So, I’m going to start with the most obvious question. With Tresean Gore withdrawing earlier this week, Val Woodburn is stepping in to replace him.

Given how methodical you are with your preparaction leading up to each fight, does your preparation change in anyway based on this unique instance?

Bo Nickal: “I would say slightly. I got a little more film to watch with the new opponent but at this point the work is kind of been done so I’m just getting the weight down and making sure I feel good when the fight comes.”

NittanyCentral: In your career both as a wrestler, and as a UFC fighter, you’re no stranger to pressure.

So, with that, how does it feel to be undefeated and on the main card with so many incredible matchups at UFC 290 just as the 2023 UFC International Fight Week comes to a close?

Bo Nickal: “Oh, it’s a big honor for me so, you know, the pressure is exciting being on the main card and having a big event this weekend.

“It’s just kind of adds to the whole experience and for me that’s the type of environment I want to put myself in and that’s why I train as hard as I do so I can be in these positions and perform well.”

NittanyCentral: Speaking of being in those environments, back in 2019 you won gold at the U23 World Championships and in the 2019 US National Championships in Las Vegas, and you’re currently undefeated in the UFC.

What’s the more satisfying accomplishment, winning gold in international wrestling or walking out of the Octagon with a win, and why?

Bo Nickal: “You know, I think that all things considered at this point in my career definitely that world championship. But, once I get the opportunity to achieve my goals in MMA and I get that belt on my waist I’m sure that’ll feel much better.”


NittanyCentral: Was there a specific point in your life that you knew for sure you were going down a path to become a professional MMA fighter?

Bo Nickal: “As a kid I always thought that maybe this would be a path for me and an option for me and I was always interested in it.

“I love watching the fights and have been a big fan of the UFC. But it wasn’t really until college that I decided for sure that I was going to fight. I did a couple of Jujitsu practices just randomly and I just loved it and I knew that once I was done wrestling that I had to fight and it was just some of that, it was too exciting for me.”

NittanyCentral: You mentioned that it wasn’t until college that you decided you were going to be a professional fighter.

So, how did your Penn State Wrestling career prepare you for the UFC stage, and why do you believe you’ve been so dominant since your arrival?

Bo Nickal: “Well when you look at my college career and the environment you’re put in and how much you compete, you know, I had over 120 collegiate matches and a lot of those in front of tens of thousands of people. And, you know, high pressure situations with different things on the line and that’s just something that the competition experience and the reps, it’s so valuable.

“And, for me coming into MMA it’s not really that new. Like the feeling of walking into a cage to fight somebody it’s very similar to walking out onto a mat and competing, of course the techniques are different and there is a slightly different mentality but a lot of it overlaps, and so I think that gives me a huge advantage.

“I think that’s a big part of why I’ve been able to be as successful as I have. Just, you know, having those competition reps and understanding how I’m going to feel going into that moment and being able to perform my best.”

NittanyCentral: Cael Sanderson is arguably the greatest wrestling coach of all-time. I know he probably has a couple of pounds on you and you’re training for a completely different sport, but if I threw out a mat right now and you two squared off, who wins in a folkstyle match?

Bo Nickal: “I think I take him out. Well it would have been more exciting for me if we were able to wrestle when he was 27 and I was 27. I think that would be something that would be really exciting.

“But, it doesn’t work that way. You know he was my idol growing up and still to this day I have so much respect for him and obviously he’s still training and competing in the practice room. I think most people would be surprised at how good he is still at 44.”

NittanyCentral: And now onto arguably the most important question of the interview, who’s the best dodgeball player you’ve ever seen?

Bo Nickal: “Best dodgeball player I’ve ever seen? That’s a tough question. There are a lot of really high level guys I think of, Jake Varner and Jordan Conway.

“But, if I had to pick one I would say that the guy that I see in the mirror every morning is probably the best dodgeball player.

“Like I said, those dudes are super good, they got good arms and they can catch. But I’m just so versatile, I feel like, you know, arm strength, catching ability, dodging ability, politicking, nobody really beats me. And I wouldn’t be able to do it without my number one support partner, Anthony Cassar. He’s my best friend and roommate for a long time and the best man at my wedding and we’re dodgeball partners. He’s like the ying to my yang, I think that he’s just like such a charismatic good looking dude nobody wants to throw it at him. Everybody is gunning for me and he takes a little bit of the pressure off the team.”

Chris Snyder

Expertise: College Wrestling, College Football, Lays Chips Education: Penn State University Location: State College, PA Even though he had no prior journalism experience, Chris has now covered Penn State Wrestling and Penn State Football for the past three years. And it's clear he also likes constant torture as he's been a PSU Basketball fan for way too long. Several years back, Chris made the seamless transition from PGA Professional to computer programmer and thoroughly enjoys following and writing about all things related to Penn State sports during his spare time.