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Bo Nickal: The Penn State Phenom’s MMA Potential

Bo Nickal: The Penn State Phenom’s MMA Potential


Putting a finger on the Penn State style in the Cael era is difficult. The best way to sum it up would be dangerous in every position, and creative as it gets. Many wrestlers have come through the Penn State program that flaunt this style to a T, in Mark Hall, Vincenzo Joseph, Jason Nolf, and the best example that comes to mind, Bo Nickal. In his 4 years, he made 4 national finals appearances, 3 of which he won in dominant fashion, and with an uncanny ability to feel positions and improvise scrambles and counters rarely seen in the upper weight classes.

Bo has been consistently one of the most exciting wrestlers to watch for the past 4 years, and will continue to be in this olympic cycle as he plans to compete in 2021. However, Bo has signed with First Round Management, as he plans to transition into MMA after the Olympics. Having recently competed at 92kg (202 pounds give or take), and having been vocal in the past about how he dislikes the process of cutting weight, like any sane human (Competing at 197 his senior year, according to him cutting zero weight, and at one point weighing in at 87kg for a 92kg match with J’den Cox) it’s safe to project him as a light heavyweight, fighting at 205, rather than making the difficult cut to 185. So just how good can the most dangerous wrestler in the country be in mma? Pretty dang good. Let’s break down how Bo Nickal’s unorthodox folkstyle approach can make him a threat to the UFC 205 pound division (as the widely accepted best promotion, it’s best to break down how Bo performs against the best rather than the while certainly good, but widely overlooked Bellator or ONE FC) 

Attacking One Leg In MMA: Is It Viable? 

Bo Nickal as a wrestler is known as a high volume attacker on the feet, and creative on top. In MMA many pundits of the sport have made the claim that the single leg is not an effective takedown in the open, and that wrestling in mma boils down to double legs, upper body attacks, and riding. Bo Nickal, whose best leg attack is his high crotch, could both turn this idea on its head while following two important wrestling figures in MMA: Daniel Cormier and Henry Cejudo. Both have been seen using a snatch single leg, and high crotch to lift finish in their fights with the best on the planet. The misconception of single leg takedowns not being prevalent in MMA is due to the fact that we have yet to see someone utilize the sweep step or traditional penetration step we are taught on the mats. But Nickal, in possession of exceptional timing, can do as DC and Cejudo have repeatedly, and that’s taking advantage of the opponent’s approach.

At around 6’1 to 6’2, Bo will be around the middle in terms of the varying heights of the 205 pound division, with the tallest fighter being Johnny Walker at 6’5, and the shortest being Ilir Latifi, at 5’8. Cormier and Cejudo both take their single leg attacks, be it head inside or outside, when their opponent approaches while throwing the lead hand. They simply duck, lock high at the hip and lift. Cormier at 5’10 flipped 6’5 Alexander Gustaffson on his head with this exact technique. Bo’s lanky frame betrays the speed he possesses. His upright stance and the upper body ability all his opponents were wary of allowed him to rack up points simply by tapping the head, as his opponents expect an upper body setup they leave their leg open to a slick knee pull to hi-c, often not requiring a lift as Bo goes behind for two. It wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility for Bo to introduce a new way to wrestle in the octagon, and silence those who simplify wrestling in MMA to a double leg and rideout. 

Home Run Moves 

Home run moves. Crowds love them, and no one is better at them than Penn State wrestlers. Cenzo’s inside trip, Mark Hall’s Cement Mixer, and anything Bo Nickal does with an underhook, overhook, or leg defense. These moves all score big points, but Bo Nickal’s go to throws in particular are very easy to see as being used in the cage. A good toss from double overhooks isn’t often seen in MMA, or even at the highest levels of wrestling, but Nickal made it work consistently enough that anyone should think twice before taking a bodylock against Nickal. At 205, with many fighters having a clinch-heavy style, this works in Nickal’s favor. Nickal doesn’t go many matches without digging in an underhook in order to work for a big, crowd pleasing throw. 

Check out some top-tier technique from Nickal!


New Age Askren 

Can we all agree Bo Nickal was the best upper weight scrambler we’ve seen since Askren? Nickal finished his high school career at 170 pounds, and his collegiate career at 197. Through that whole time period he put on display a scrambling arsenal you’d expect from 133 pounder Roman Bravo Young. Funk in mma is hit and miss. Askren in MMA rarely displayed his signature scrambling, and more often took a double leg and kept punching until the ref saved his opponent.

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While Nolf or the previously mentioned RBY may be the first athletes to come to mind when you ask about Penn State scramblers, Nickal’s resume speaks for itself. His dual match against Martin, which has accumulated over 1 million views on YouTube, displays the Nittany Lion’s ability to stay calm when one of the best in the country (and currently 8th in the world) has his leg. The funkiest fighter in mma as of now is Tony Ferguson, who displays an entirely unorthodox game, with imanari rolls, bizarre rhythm, and unwavering pressure. I do not see Nickal being a pressure fighter, but his scrambling can be an X factor in a sport with a heavy influence from Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Nickal’s ability to get a cradle off of any single leg attack is legendary, and a Penn State staple. This unorthodox and impenetrable defense will likely make it very hard to prevent Nickal from taking the fight wherever he wants it to go. 

2021 and Ahead Wrap Up 

After the 2021 Olympics conclude, hopefully with Nickal on top of the podium, we can see if these predictions hold any water. This article makes the assumption Nickal will be heavily using his wrestling, rather than going the sprawl and brawl route like Cejudo and Liddell. But with a skillset as varied as Bo’s, I don’t see him abandoning it to become a standup fighter. Bo’s lanky frame make him a perfect fit for 205, and I think I speak for all of us when I say the next two years will bring a lot of great wrestling, with Bo at the center of the upperweight fans’ attention.

Bo Knows Takedowns by Bo Nickal

Take your Takedowns to the next level with Bo Nickal!