Bo Nickal on Khamzat Chimaev after recent victory: ‘I feel like that’s a fight that I win’

Bo Nickal keeps a close eye on the entire middleweight division, but he’s always been drawn to a showdown against fellow undefeated wrecking machine Khamzat Chimaev.

With similar backgrounds in wrestling and grappling, the three-time NCAA champion from Penn State feels it’s inevitable that he’ll cross paths with Chimaev eventually, especially now that the Chechnya native competes full-time at 185 pounds. Most recently, Chimaev seemingly secured a title shot after earning a hard-fought win over ex-UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman when they met at UFC 294.

“I felt like it was an interesting matchup given that they’re both 170-pounders fighting at 185,” Nickal said about the fight on The MMA Hour. “There’s always some volatility, some unknowns there when guys are up a weight. I felt like first round, he looked lights out. He looked like he always looks. Got Usman on the ground, held him down, beat him up, was close to a finishing a couple of times, and then kind of slowed. The pace slowed for both of them as the rounds went on.

“I would have liked to have seen that be a five-round fight. I think obviously Usman on short notice felt three rounds was the better option for him, but it looked like he was the fresher guy at the end of the fight.”

Chimaev often gets off to fast starts in his fights, which accounts for his eight first-round finishes across his 13-0 overall career record.

He did the same against Usman with a lopsided opening round, but then Chimaev started to slow down as the former welterweight champion surged to a comeback.

“I think there’s a lot to take from that on both ends, positively and negatively,” Nickal said. “Positively, he’s got great grappling, he likes to overwhelm guys, he’s definitely very strong, very aggressive. Also saw a few holes and a few areas where Usman kind of took advantage of him.

“For me, every fight that I get to watch from my opponents and guys I might fight in the future is a big learning experience. I just try to download all of that info and take it into my training so I can be ready when the time comes.”

In the end, Chimaev still won, but Nickal definitely saw enough to know he could vanquish the so-called middleweight boogeyman.

“He’s a tough guy, of course,” Nickal said of Chimaev. “When you have a guy like Kamaru Usman, who is one of the all-time greats at his weight class, he was a champion, defended the belt multiple times, good wrestling base, and [Chimaev] is able to take him down and control him like what he did in the first round, I think there’s a lot to be said for that.

“But at the same time, I believe in myself and I think my skills match up very well against him. I feel like that’s a fight that I win.”

Nickal has never shied away from putting himself alongside the best middleweights in the world despite his relative inexperience in the sport.

With only five fights on his MMA résumé and his third UFC appearance booked against Cody Brundage at UFC 300 in April, Nickal may not have the record to match against the top contenders in the division just yet, but he has no doubts that he can go with anybody and win.

“I think that my wrestling ability is a huge X factor,” Nickal explained. “Every single guy has to prepare for me so differently than they would for any other fighter. That being said, I’m getting better and better every single day. A lot of these guys are older, they’re very deep in their careers, whereas I’m just starting, I’m getting better. There’s absolutely a clear path for me to the belt. That’s something for me, it’s on my mind every day. It’s a huge motivator for me.

“My goal is to be a UFC champion, No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world, and so I’m not really planning right now for beating Cody Brundage. Of course, that’s part of the training, but my main plan is to get that belt, defend my belt 10 times. That’s what I’m looking to do. You see the path, I see the path, I think everybody sees it. That’s why there’s as much hype as there is on me.”

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