On Saturday night at UFC 290, Bo Nickal announced himself to the world on one of the biggest stages possible. As one half of the opening bout on the main card for International Fight week, Nickal was thrust into the Octagon with fellow undefeated prospect, albeit of a much lower level of hype, Val Woodburn. While Nickal was undoubtedly a massive (historic) favorite heading into the bout, few believed that he would emerge victorious in the manner in which he did so. A hugely decorated wrestler, Nickal would rely on none of his trademark skills which have brought him so far in the world of combat sports and would instead rely on his hands in order to secure a first round finish via TKO just 38 seconds into the fight.
The Bo Nickal Blueprint
The Rise of Bo Nickal
The win has left many fans excited about the future of Bo Nickal. Aside from the Contender Series, the young fighter has only had two fights under the UFC banner. Even so, the 27-year-old appears to be headed for stardom after such a short time. Arriving into the sport as one of the most accomplished wrestlers in the world, Nickal was immediately set for big things and in only his second ever professional fight found his way onto Dana White’s Contender Series.
An initial win was not enough to secure the UFC contract, with White feeling that Nickal was still too inexperienced. In turn, another fight was set up to take place again on the Contender Series. Nickal would go on to win again in similarly dominant fashion. This would lead to a UFC contract being offered.
His first fight would see him be placed against Jamie Pickett where he would win via first round submission. His trend of first round finishes would continue with his most recent outing at UFC 290.
Where Does Bo Nickal Go from Here?
Still the question remains, what is next for Bo Nickal? The UFC is well aware that they have a potentially very hot property on their hand with a fighter who possibly has a world championship skillset. Yet all the potential in the world will not mask the lack of experience in Nickal’s career. Despite showing promise in the striking department in his most recent contest, the idea that he will be able to stay on the feet with the best in the division right now does not seem to be realistic.
It would be wise for the UFC to not rush him and allow him to develop his style more and become more comfortable in the Octagon. While there are many similarities in the rise of Nickal and the rise of Khamzat Chimaev, I believe it would be wise for the UFC to take more of a measured approach with Nickal rather than pushing him to the moon immediately and potentially derailing his momentum sooner than needed.
Potential Matchups and the Road to Stardom
The UFC needs to continue to give him challenging but unranked opponents, stepping up the name and prestige each time. If the UFC does this twice and Nickal is able to continue this level of performance, perhaps someone from the top-15 is a viable option. Then if he succeeds there, someone from the top-10. If he picks up a win against a top-10 guy, this would then thrust him into the level below a title fight and he may wind up in the title picture.
If the UFC adopted a strategy such as this, Nickal would find himself potentially knocking on the top-5 in four fights or so. A few names that would possibly be good for Nickal to test himself in the future would be the likes of Brad Tavares, then possibly someone such as Bruno Silva. A win over two names such as Tavares and Silva would certainly warrant Nickal a fight with a top-15 fighter, perhaps somebody such as Jack Hermansson. A win over a top-15 would allow for a top-10, think Roman Dolidze for example.
Following a strategy such as this would enable him more time to hone his skills and gain some much needed time in the Octagon. It would also allow him to feel the differing levels of skillsets throughout the UFC ladder and would encourage a far more gradual acclimatization process rather than dropping him in the deep end immediately. If he was successful in each of these four hypothetical fights he would find himself on a 6-fight win streak in the organization and 9-0 overall. This would be more than enough to warrant a title shot.
While some fight fans may want to see Nickal take on a top-10 guy in his next fight and be put into the title picture as soon as possible, this is not the best course of action. In order for him to develop as a fighter and gain necessary experience, it is imperative that he builds himself up towards fighting the best in the division. This is the best route to take for Bo Nickal.