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Smeltzer: Bo Nickal can be Something no Penn State Great has Been

Photo by Penn State Athletics: Bo Nickal

It’s fall, so Penn State sports fans are thinking about football and… yep, that’s pretty much it. 

Mostly, fans are thinking about this year’s team. 

They’re thinking of how it did last week, how it will do this week and where it will be at the end of the season.

They’re thinking of which players have overachieved, which have underachieved, you get the picture.

Penn State fans also pay attention to how past Nittany Lions perform in the NFL.

Two nights after Penn State beat Central Michigan this past Saturday, two of Penn State’s best players in the James Franklin era, Saquon Barkley and Micah Parsonsfaced each other on Monday Night Football. Barkley suited up for the New York Giants and Parsons for the visiting Dallas Cowboys.

If the night didn’t have enough of a Penn State feel, Eli Manning, AKA Chad Powers, did commentary on the game with brother Peyton on the “ManningCast.”

The next night belonged to another Penn State great, but not a former football player.

Bo Nickal is one of the best wrestlers in Penn State history. The “Pride of Allen, Texas,” went 90-3 for coach Cael Sanderson, winning three national championships and being named All-American in all four of his years with Penn State.

Now, he’s moved from the mat to the octagon, and if you don’t know what Nickal can do there, here’s his most recent fight.

Watch it. It won’t even take a minute.

Watching Nickal’s first three professional fights in order would take roughly two and a half minutes.

He’s a bad man, and that’s why UFC Boss Dana White gave him a UFC contract less than four months after his first professional MMA fight.

Many felt White should have signed Nickal last month when Nickal won his Contender Series debut with another quick submission.

Penn State has had great athletes in multiple sports, and football and wrestling are the two most prominent.

If Nickal comes close to living up to his hype as UFC’s next big thing, he’ll be an athlete unlike any other in Penn State history.

Parsons and Barkley have both done Penn State proud in the NFL. With that said, if both end up being NFL Hall of Famers, guess what? Penn State already has six Hall of Famers.

This isn’t to say that enshrinement for one of those two, let alone both, wouldn’t be a massive thing for the University, and Parsons and Barkley are both unique in their own rights.

But Nickal is unique in a different way.

There were plenty of great Penn State football players in college and the NFL before Barkley and Parsons played their first snaps in Beaver Stadium, and there will be plenty after they’ve retired.

There were plenty of great Penn State wrestlers before Nickal made his mark on the mat, and there will be plenty after.

There hasn’t been a UFC superstar from Penn State, and it’s hard to picture Penn State becoming an MMA factory.

That’s a big reason Penn State sports fans who aren’t following Nickal’s UFC journey should start right now.

Not if and when he wins his first championship.

Not the week of his first fight under contract.

Right now.

Nickal isn’t fighting again until Dec. 10. So what? 

As good as Nickal was on the mat and is becoming in the cage, he’s equally entertaining on social media. 

Nickal knows how to promote himself, which is vital in combat sports. 

As Muhammed Ali showed in boxing way back when and Conor McGregor showed in the UFC more recently, fighters are always a bigger deal when they know what to say outside of the ring to draw a reaction. 

Nickal is already a bigger deal than most UFC up-and-comers are, and, sure, a lot of that is because of what he did in wrestling. But his charisma and presence on social media, in press conferences, etc. haven’t hurt, either, and that’s what makes him somebody that people can be interested in aside from when he’s fighting.

I love how Nickal promotes himself. I’m sure not everybody does.

But love him or hate him, Nickal will be a draw, and his official UFC debut will be bigger than most.

And it will be a debut that any Penn State fan, regardless of their interest in combat sports, should do what they can to watch.

Nickal could give Penn State something that not many other schools have. Something that Penn Staters can use to boast about to fans of other big-time programs. 

Conor McGregor didn’t go to Ohio State. 

Chuck Liddell didn’t wrestle at USC.

Evander Holyfield didn’t box at Georgia. 

Nickal is already a big deal and might not be far away from becoming a superstar in a combat sport, which is different from anything any other Penn State athlete has ever done. 

After Nickal got his contract, Yahoo Sports Combat Columnist Kevin Iole asked if Nickal could be MMA’s version of LeBron James. 

LeBron James didn’t go to college anywhere. 

Bo Nickal Went to Penn State.

It feels like a matter of time before Nickal goes from prospect to champion.

Penn State fans shouldn’t wait that long to hop on the “Nickal Express.”

By the time its all over, Nickal could be sports’ most famous “Bo” since Jackson.

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