Bo Nickal at the 2020 Olympic Trials (photo courtesy of Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
The UFC has a rare weekend off and this weekend in the MMA world overall is not particularly stacked. However, there are a few key fights that wrestling fans might not want to miss.
Friday: Bellator 285
Benson Henderson vs. Peter Queally
On Friday, Bellator returns to Ireland for a show headlined by a former UFC champion. Henderson will take on Dublin native Queally. During his collegiate days, Henderson wrestled for Dana College. At the NAIA school, he was a two-time All-American. He finished fifth at 157 pounds as both a junior and senior, and he exhausted his eligibility in 2006.
Later that same year, Henderson made his professional MMA debut. In 2010, he defeated Jamie Varner for the WEC lightweight title, but dropped the belt to Anthony Pettis' on the promotion's final show before it was absorbed into the UFC. Two years later, Henderson defeated Frankie Edgar for the UFC lightweight title. He defended the belt three times before losing it to Pettis. Henderson joined Bellator in 2016. He has fought for both the Bellator welterweight and lightweight titles, but came up short in each challenge.
Queally has been fighting professionally since 2012. He signed with Bellator in 2019 and has gone 2-2 with the promotion. In his last fight, Queally faced off against Patricky "Pitbull" Freire with the vacant Bellator lightweight title on the line and suffered a second-round knockout.
Yoel Romero vs. Melvin Manhoef
Romero was a six-time World/Olympic medalist in freestyle for Cuba. He won a gold medal at 85 kg in 1999 and followed that up with a silver medal at the 2000 Olympic Games. Romero was also a multiple-time champion at the Pan American Games/Championships where he picked up victories over Americans Tommy Rowlands, Brandon Eggum, Andy Hrovat, and Cael Sanderson.
In 2007, Romero defected to Germany where he also started his MMA career. In 2011, he signed with UFC where he won his first eight fights to earn a shot at the interim middleweight championship against Robert Whittaker. Romero ultimately came up short in an instant classic fight. He left the UFC in 2020 after dropping a decision against middleweight champion Israel Adesanya. He has fought twice since for Bellator. Romero dropped a decision against former Penn State wrestler Phil Davis and then defeated former Northwestern wrestler Alex Polizzi.
Manhoef is a veteran of 50 MMA bouts and 52 kickboxing fights. Over the course of his career, he has picked up victories over the likes of Mark Hunt, Kazushi Sakuraba and Remy Bonjasky. The well-traveled veteran has been fighting exclusively with Bellator since 2014 and has gone 4-4 with the promotion. In his last fight, he lost via second-round knockout against former Wisconsin-Whitewater wrestler Corey Anderson.
The main card of Bellator 285 will air live on Showtime at 4:00pm ET.
Tuesday: Dana White's Contender Series 2022: Week 10
Bo Nickal vs. Donovan Beard
Last month Nickal had his second professional MMA fight on week three of the Contender Series, and he won the bout in only 62 seconds. Nickal did not even absorb a single strike. While he was not awarded a UFC contract, he was invited back for a second fight.
Beard might not have the higher profile in this fight, but he does have an edge in experience. He holds a 7-1 record as a professional and is coming off a fourth-round submission victory over Miles Lee for the Cage Fury FC middleweight title. The victory over Lee is an interesting wrinkle in this fight. While Lee clearly does not have the wrestling credentials of Nickal, he did finish fifth in Pennsylvania as a senior and made the Fargo finals in 2017 before coming up short against current Iowa wrestler Jacob Warner.
Nickal, of course, was a four-time NCAA finalist and three-time champion. He won the Hodge Trophy following his senior year where he went undefeated and won his third title. Nickal continued to wrestle on the freestyle circuit and won a gold medal at the 2019 U23 World Championships. Nickal then mostly turned his attention to MMA. He fought twice as an amateur in 2021 and scored two quick finishes. Earlier this year, he turned professional and has won both of his fights in a combined 95 seconds.
DWCS Week 10 will air live on ESPN+ at 8:00pm ET. The bout between Nickal and Beard is expected to be the main event.