After a short hiatus, we are back with a new WagerWire Fighter Spotlight for this weekend’s UFC 285 card. This week’s spotlight features one of the brightest prospects that the promotion currently has under contract in any division: Bo Nickal. The undefeated middleweight will be making his UFC debut against Jamie Pickett in the first fight of the main card on Saturday.
The twenty-seven-year-old phenom has only been practicing mixed martial arts for a relatively short period of time, however, he is no stranger to combat sports in general. Nickal was a three-time NCAA Division I National Champion wrestler at Penn State, where he accumulated a record of 120–3 and largely dominated during his time there (he was a finalist in 2016, his only non-championship year). Shortly after his collegiate wrestling career winded down, Nickal announced his intentions to transition into MMA training and helped to establish a new gym in the Happy Valley area under the American Top Team banner.
Since making his amateur debut in September 2021, Nickal has put together a five-fight winning streak (2–0 amateur, 3–0 professional) and has found stoppages over all five opponents. His two amateur fights lasted a combined 2:58 before he found finishes (one via KO/TKO, the other via submission). Nickal made his pro debut this past summer with Jorge Masvidal’s iKON FC, which he won via KO/TKO in just over 30 seconds. Less than two months later, Nickal would go on to appear on Dana White’s Contenders Series, where he picked up a dominant submission win over Zach Borrego in just over a minute.
Instead of signing him immediately after that victory, Dana White had Nickal return the following month to face Donovan Beard in a second DWCS fight. This time Nickal would pick up the submission stoppage in just under a minute. His three professional fights have lasted a combined two minutes and twenty-seven seconds.
At only 27 years old, the sky’s the limit for Nickal in the UFC as he prepares to make his first walk to the octagon on Saturday night. He was originally scheduled to make his debut at UFC 282 back in December, but the fight was postponed to this card after Nickal suffered an injury during his training.
That fight was also scheduled to be against Jamie Pickett. During his time in the UFC, Pickett has gone 2–4 and is coming off back-to-back losses entering this fight. He has a 13–8 record and has been stopped in five of his eight losses with two by KO/TKO and three via submission. His best win in the UFC to date is over Joseph Holmes and he has largely struggled every time he has faced solid opposition.
As you can imagine given his background, Nickal is an absolutely elite wrestler who has also shown early in his MMA career to have a decent bit of power in his striking as well. In his last fight against Donovan Beard, Nickal actually landed a well-placed shot on the feet and followed it through to the ground with a takedown in one swift motion before getting the submission shortly thereafter. And despite only having three professional fights under his belt, the hype around Nickal is very real.
He was added to the UFC 4 video game by EA Sports before even making his debut, while a large number of long-time fighters still aren’t even available to use within the game. He’s also almost tripled his social media presence in the past few months, amassing almost 300,000 followers on Twitter heading into his debut at UFC 285.
Nickal is easily the biggest betting favorite of the weekend by a comfortable margin with a Moneyline that opened at -1800 and has since continued to grow. It is currently between -2000 and -2200 at most sportsbooks, which puts him in range of setting the UFC all-time record for being the heaviest favorite entering a fight (Alexander Romanov at -2000 against Chase Sherman last year is the current record holder).
While that line is absurdly high, it’s actually considerably lower than where his Moneyline closed for each of his last two fights. Against Zack Borrego he closed as a -3500 favorite and was an even wider -4000 favorite against Donovan Beard. After the Borrego fight, Nickal called his enormously priced Moneyline “free money” and said he expected it to be -10000 when it opened, so he certainly doesn’t lack confidence.
Since his Moneyline is pretty much unplayable, that leaves us with the always exciting option to dig through the prop markets to find some better value out there for this one. Realistically, there’s almost zero chance this fight goes to decision, as Nickal Inside the Distance is currently sitting at -750, and I honestly don’t expect it to leave the first round. Bo Nickal to win in R1 is currently at -190 on DraftKings Sportsbook, and without having to attach a method to it, that is probably the best line for this fight.
If you do have a strong opinion of how the fight will finish, Nickal by Submission is currently at -120 and Nickal by KO/TKO is +130. Personally, I think Nickal will get this one done in the opening minutes by submission. He has already demonstrated an ability to get opponents to the ground and lock in a variety of different chokes, and it should be rinse and repeat in this fight. Nickal by R1 Sub is currently +140 on DraftKings.
Nickal is in a position to have a very quick rise through the middleweight ranks, perhaps reminiscent of current UFC Middleweight champion Alex Pereira, who was fighting for the championship in his fourth fight with the promotion despite having a limited amount of MMA fights under his belt.
Nickal’s wrestling and grappling abilities are going to cause a lot of problems for a vast majority of the fighters in that division and he could find himself fairly high up in the division rankings by the end of the year if he is active enough. Regardless, I definitely expect to see Nickal in the division title hunt much sooner than later, and that will start with a statement-making victory over Jamie Pickett this weekend at UFC 285.