Bo Nickal at the 2020 Olympic Team Trials (photo courtesy of Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
On Friday night in Richmond, Virginia, Hodge Trophy winner Bo Nickal finally made his professional MMA debut in dramatic fashion. He needed only 33 seconds to finish off his opponent John Noland via knockout and advance to 1-0.
The former wrestler did not attempt a single takedown in the bout. He clearly made a point to display his nascent striking ability. The southpaw landed a hard left hook that stunned Noland. He followed that up with a two-punch combination that sent his opponent to the floor, and the bout was over.
Even after only one professional fight, Nickal displayed the type of bravado wrestling fans are used to seeing on the mats.
"Every single middleweight on the planet, I don't care what organization you're in, UFC, Bellator, PFL I am coming for all of y'all," he said in the post-fight interview.
"I am trying to hold it down for all my wrestlers out there. I love y'all, and wrestling is taking over for sure."
Former collegiate wrestlers have long dominated the highest levels of MMA. However, that supremacy has been somewhat challenged recently. Currently, only two of the men's UFC champions wrestled in college, welterweight champion Kamaru Usman and Bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling. Based on his performance tonight, Nickal seems determined to at least make a run at the highest level of the sport.
Noland was also making his professional debut. Per Tapology, the 36-year-old Alabama-based fighter went 6-3 as an amateur after making his debut in 2017. He began his amateur run with four-straight wins, but since 2018 he went only 1-3 on the circuit. In his last fight, prior to tonight, he dropped a unanimous decision against Clay Witt last March. Last year, Noland also made his amateur boxing debut and took a split-decision victory over Anthony Lindsey on the undercard of Island Fight 66.
Nickal took his first step towards a professional MMA career in late 2019. Less than a year after winning his third and final NCAA title for Penn State, he faced off against World-renowned grappler Gordon Ryan in a submission wrestling match at Third Coast Grappling 3. Even though the bout did not allow for striking, the bout was the first high-profile contest outside of Nickal's comfort zone of wrestling. The wrestler did manage a pretty impressive throw in the match, but he did ultimately submit to a triangle choke from Gordon at the 13:06 mark of the 15-minute bout.
Nearly two years later, the former Penn State representative made his amateur MMA debut on the undercard of Island Fights 69. He needed only a little over two minutes to stop David Conley with an arm triangle choke.
Bo Nickal chokes David Conley unconscious in R1 via arm triangle pic.twitter.com/iPwgiIGOMKâ€” caposa (@Grabaka_Hitman) September 25, 2021
In his last amateur fight before Friday's professional debut, Nickal picked up his first knockout at Island Fights 70. In the first minute of the contest, he dropped Billy Goode with right hand. The referee jumped in immediately to stop the fight and award the victory to Nickal.