How Good Is Bo Nickal? Breaking Down Ways To Speculate On UFC’s Top Prospect
Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC. Pictured: UFC middleweight Bo Nickal
- Super prospect Bo Nickal makes his official UFC debut tonight at UFC 285.
- The decorated amateur wrestler has made a quick splash in the MMA world.
- Below, Billy Ward discusses how Nickal backers can bet and invest in the fighter's future success.
I’ve been following the UFC for the better part of 20 years, and I can’t remember a prospect with more hype than Bo Nickal, who returns on Saturday and opens the UFC 285 main card (ESPN+ pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET).
The closest comparison is probably Brock Lesnar. That was as much about his celebrity status from the WWE as his legitimate wrestling credentials.
For comparison, Lesnar won two national titles – one at the junior college level. Nickal won three national titles and finished second in the nation as a freshman. He also was the under-23 world champion in 2019.
He’s every bit as good of an athlete as Lesnar (especially when you factor in Lesnar’s PED use) and much more fully formed as a martial artist. Nickal has (briefly) shown off his striking abilities, with a first-round knockout in his professional debut.
All of which is well and good – but how can we gamble on it?
Let’s look at a few methods.
Bo Nickal To Finish 2023 as Middleweight Champion: +1500
Nickal is currently the fifth-likeliest to end 2023 with gold around his waist, trailing only Alex Pereira and Israel Adesanya (who are fighting for the belt early next month), former champion Robert Whittaker, and Khamzat Chimaev. He’s +1500 at BetMGM for this bet.
Truthfully, getting a title shot in that short of a period is probably less likely for Nickal than beating any of the above fighters. Which is where the Lesnar comparisons are relevant.
Lesnar made his UFC debut in February of 2008 – and won the title in November of that year. Nickal might be slightly behind schedule, but Lesnar actually lost his UFC debut to Frank Mir.
With Nickal approaching -2000 odds this weekend, he’s not in much danger of suffering that same fate. Assuming he wins Saturday, what would his path to the title look like?
Nickal’s Hypothetical Road to UFC Title Shot
It took Lesnar three total fights to win UFC gold, and it’s not inconceivable Nickal gets there in a similar timeframe. Two more fights this year is a reasonable expectation, and that could give him up to five months off between each matchup.
Nickal would need to jump immediately from a win over Jamie Pickett to a top-five or so contender. Perhaps the most likely is Sean Strickland – who’s currently ranked No. 6 in Tapology’s middleweight rankings.
Going through the rankings, we have the top two fighters booked to fight each other this month. Whittaker and Cannonier have both been on the shelf since 2022 and probably would prefer to fight before Nickal is ready to return to action.
Strickland has already served in the gatekeeper role for an ascending prospect (Pereira) and is game enough to take the Nickal fight. The UFC could easily justify a title fight in late 2023 based on a dominant win over Strickland – just as they did with Pereira.
The wild card in the equation is Chimaev, who’s not officially ranked at middleweight since he’s hypothetically a welterweight. Chimaev vs. Nickal would be a massive fight between world-class grapplers, and it would be hard to deny the winner a title fight.
Other Factors to Consider
Middleweight is one of the more intriguing divisions in the UFC right now. Current champion Pereira is massive and likely destined for 205 pounds. I’d expect Pereira to move up if he beats Adesanya in their 185-pound rematch, where he’s currently a slight (+135) underdog.
A vacant belt obviously helps Nickal’s chances here, as it’s easy to have him face someone such as Whittaker or Cannonier for a vacant title.
Bo Nickal landed two finishes in less than two minutes combined fight time on #DWCS 🤯@NoBickal is ready for his UFC debut SATURDAY at #UFC285! pic.twitter.com/IUWUgq4I5G
— UFC (@ufc) February 28, 2023
An Adesanya win wouldn’t be horrible either, though. He’s already beat Cannonier, Whittaker (twice) and Marvin Vettori, so the desire for new blood could fast-track Nickal to the top.
The concern would be if the UFC completes the trilogy between Adesanya and Pereira. That fight would likely happen in the fall, and it would not leave room for another title defense this year. Still, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Pereira move up to 205 even following a loss. The weight cut could simply be impossible to sustain, and Pereira matches up well against the current light-heavyweight champion, Jamahal Hill.
Hypothetical Lines for Future Fights
Of the other middleweights – or middleweights in theory – only one currently has a listed line for a fight with Nickal. That’s Chimaev, who’s a -300 favorite against Nickal.
That line probably comes down a bit if and when the fight actually happens, though. Nickal is more of a natural middleweight size-wise, and Khamzat struggled against the only other elite grappler he faced (the much smaller Gilbert Burns).
Beyond that, it’s hard to see Nickal as a significant underdog against the rest of the division’s elite. He’d almost certainly be a large favorite against Strickland. Whittaker is currently a toss-up for a hypothetical matchup with Chimaev, which at least implies similar odds for Nickal if they were to fight.
Cannonier and Vettori both lost to Whittaker, so Nickal would be a slight underdog at worst against either of them. My guess is he becomes a favorite fairly quickly if he opens at plus-money.
Which leaves us the current title combatants, Adesanya and Pereira. Nickal is a nightmare matchup for Pereira, who was taken down by Adesanya and surrendered more than six total minutes of control time. I’d make Nickal a slight favorite against Pereira.
Adesanya is a bigger question. While his offensive grappling is poor, he’s done very well at keeping his feet against grapplers in the past. While fighters have landed takedowns on him, only Jan Blachowicz (at light heavyweight) was really able to control him on the ground.
Still, Nickal is a better wrestler than anyone Adesanya has fought. Translating that to MMA against a dangerous striker is no small task, but Nickal might be up for it. Out of deference to the long-time champion, Adesanya is probably a slight favorite here – but I’d bet on Nickal.
Is It a Good Bet?
Obviously, this is a hard question to answer definitively. It’s impossible to come up with precise odds of Nickal getting to a title shot in 2023, even if we can come reasonably close on handicapping the fights that get him there.
In a perfect world, we’d be able to wait for Adesanya-Pereira II before pulling the trigger. If Pereira wins again, the path is much cleaner for Nickal. I suspect the lines will shift heavily to reflect that, though, so we need to decide sooner rather than later.
With that fight being reasonably close – and the path for Nickal still available with an Adesanya win – these are pretty good odds. Nickal has publicly stated a desire to stay active and fight the best, and the UFC has no reason to slow him down if he passes the test on Saturday at UFC 285.
Chimaev is likely the biggest obstacle in his way, but we’re not even sure if he’ll fight at middleweight (or at all) anytime soon.
I’d take the +1500 now, or as low as +1000 following a Pereira title defense. If Adesanya wins next month, I’d want +2000 or so.
My favorite way to invest in a fighter’s future is through the DraftKings Reignmaker NFTs. These are NFTs that are eligible for use in DFS contests, with considerable cash prizes.
DraftKings offers NFTs good only for specific events, and others that can be used for an entire year. The price of the former is heavily dependent on the line for that event. The full-year cards are more expensive and more dependent on the fighter’s overall prospects.
Nickal cards are the hottest ones on the market currently. There’s a variety of different “tiers” of cards and contests, with the more rare editions featuring bigger payouts.
Nickal’s one-time-use NFTs range in price from $11.50 to $765 for UFC 285. For context, the $11.50 “core” tier card is eligible for a contest with a top prize of $2,000, with a field size likely around 2,000. (Reignmaker contests have unlimited entrants, and anyone who owns the required five cards can make lineups.) The top-tier contests have much smaller fields and pay out as much as $15,000 to first place.
What’s more intriguing is Nickal’s NFTs that are good for all of 2023. They range in price from $40 to a whopping $5,000 for his one-of-one “Reignmaker” tier card. Logically, these should be at most about three times as expensive as his event cards. Three fights this year is a reasonable expectation, and it’s doubtful Nickal is as heavily favored each time. (Holders of the full-season cards get a bonus in “franchise score” with recurring cash payouts, but that’s beyond the scope of the article.)
I personally purchased a rare tier full-season Nickal card for $55 earlier this year. That has since appreciated to a low ask of $150. To get involved this weekend, it’s a better bet to just buy the event card.
However, if you’re bullish on his long-term prospects, waiting until after this event to land a full-year card is the move. Prices should drop considerably following the event since one of his (at most) four fights for the year is in the books.
This could be used as a hedge against the championship bet, as well. If the UFC is building him up slowly, he’ll be a huge favorite in at least one more fight.
Nickal is or will be a big deal in various other memorabilia and NFT projects.
He doesn’t have any current NFTs on either Pannini’s platform or UFCStrike – the UFC NFT platform from Dapper, founders of NBA TopShot.
Both will probably launch Nickal NFTs following his official UFC debut this weekend. Getting in early could be lucrative if he lives up to his massive potential.
I’m not up on the physical collectibles world, but I’d imagine similar logic applies there, as well.
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