Bo Nickal showed his place in the UFC seven weeks ago. Fighting in Dana White’s Contender Series on August 9, he quickly made short work of the consummate opponent, choking Zachary Borrego in just 1 minute 2 seconds. For this stunning display of brutal efficiency, Nikal received a torrent of platitudes from White, who called him “amazing” and “one of the most promising in the sport.”

What Nikal didn’t get from the president of the promotion that night was a contract with the UFC.

- Advertisement -

White made the curious choice of delaying signing Nikal right now and instead offering the three-time NCAA Division I champion a second try at the Contender Series on Tuesday at the show’s season finale (Sportzshala+, 8 p.m. ET). ). Fans and pundits alike disapproved of White’s decision to delay the seemingly inevitable. But Nikal took it calmly.

- Advertisement -

“I’m not here to sign a contract with the UFC,” Nikal said. “I am here to become the UFC champion, the #1 fighter in the world. That’s what’s on the horizon for me.”

- Advertisement -

If that night Nikal sought the approval of his future boss by saying the right things, his resolve to do so has since been tested again. On last week’s episode of the Contender Series, White signed 17-year-old Raul Rosas Jr.

Of course, the teenager couldn’t be better prepared for the octagon than 26-year-old Nickal, who despite being only 2-0 as a pro, has a brilliant resume filled with competition on outstanding stages. Along with winning three individual NCAA titles and reaching the Finals as a freshman, Nickal was part of four consecutive national championship teams at Penn State. He won the 2019 Under-23 World Championships and was a Trials finalist for the 2020 US Olympic Team.

And yet, Nikal does not regret that Rosas took a place in the lineup before him.

“No, absolutely not. Everyone goes their own way. He’s fine,” Nikal said last week. “It’s a cool achievement for him to be the youngest fighter on the list. But I have a different plan for myself and where I’m going. So what others do in sports doesn’t affect me. I am by no means a hater. Go and do your thing.”

So what does Tuesday night’s middleweight bout against Donovan Beard have to prove? It would be an exaggeration to say that White and the UFC set up this second Contender Series show to further test Nikal or even create drama for his entry into the UFC, because there is little doubt how this fight will end. In Caesars Sportsbook, Nikal is the 16-1 favorite despite only being his third professional fight. This order seems to be less about what Nikal can get from another Tuesday at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, compared to the Contender Series riding Nikal’s coat tail on a hype train.

The arrival of Nikal in the UFC was expected for a long time. While many great wrestlers have found success in the octagon, for others it has often been a fallback, sometimes hesitant, chasing an opportunity to make money after they’ve finished with their jersey. However, Nikal dreamed of a career in MMA since childhood.

“I always liked to fight,” he said. “And not just wrestling competitions. My friends and I fought each other with bare fists for fun on the playground. It was a part of my daily life that I have always enjoyed.”

What turned childhood play into a career was the atmosphere surrounding the big MMA fights he watched on TV. “You would see this huge arena filled with fans, cheering people, all the lights,” Nikal said. “It was so great to watch all this atmosphere. I used to imagine myself doing this walk.”

If all goes according to plan on Tuesday, Nikal will soon fulfill his dream of getting into a cage in a packed arena. He said he hopes to make his UFC debut at Fight Night on Dec. 3 at the 18,000-seat Amway Center in Orlando, Florida, not far from where he trains with American Top Team in Coconut Creek. Nikal perfected his skills in this gym, working with Jorge Masvidal and others on his standing game.

But make no mistake, Nikal said, if he fights in the UFC, he won’t forget the skills that got him there.

“There were some great fighters in MMA, but sometimes I saw them give up the fight and get into fights. It won’t be me,” Nikal said. “Anyone I fight for the rest of my career has to be ready for a wrestling match. Whoever I meet, I can grab them and throw them to the ground any time I want. So this is something that every guy should be ready for. As for me, I stick to my roots and I believe this is the path that will make me #1 in the sport.”