‘I like being the favorite,’ former Nittany Lion Bo Nickal says ahead of UFC 290 fight

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An opponent switch-up was not what Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight Bo Nickal expected four days before his fight.

Nickal (5-0) was slated to fight Tresean Gore (4-2) in UFC 290 on Saturday, but will now fight Valentine Woodburn (7-0) after Gore pulled out due to injury.

Taken short notice, Woodburn, 29, is making his debut UFC fight against Nickal, 27.

“There were concerns because for me, initially, I felt like I’m not the type of guy to do last minute switch-ups and stuff,” Nickal said. “I’m very calculated (and) planned and I felt a little unsure of what to do.”

After discussing options with his team and thinking on the matter, Nickal accepted the fight offer and signed the contract.

“I’m just always trying to build my reputation and it doesn’t really matter who I’m fighting,” Nickal said. “I’m just going out there to do my best.”

And despite initial concerns, Nickal said that his background in collegiate and other high level wrestling competitions gives him an advantage with the last-minute opponent.

“It’s really nothing new,” he said. “That brings me a lot of confidence knowing that I’m there to compete, and regardless of who it is, I’ve experienced things similar to this before, even if they’re not the same.”

According to Bet Online, Nickal is the heavy favorite at -2500 — one of the largest gaps the promotion has seen in its history.

“I like being the favorite,” he said. “I’m going to hopefully continue to be the favorite for the rest of my career.”

Despite facing a debut fighter, Nickal has been careful not to underestimate his opponent.

“Anytime you go into a fight, there’s a ton of respect for your opponent,” he said. “When I’m fighting, it’s really important for me to be humble.”

Nickal has proven himself to be a first-round finisher. He finished his last three fights with a submission and his debut fight via technical knockout all in the first round. Woodburn’s last two wins were by decision at the end of the third round. Before that, his previous five matches were won via knockout or technical knockout in the first and second rounds.

Prior to the UFC, the Penn State graduate had an illustrious wrestling career as a three-time NCAA champion, Hodge Trophy Winner, Big Ten Athlete of the Year and U23 World Champion.

His attention has now turned to MMA.

“Going into MMA, I didn’t expect to be at this point this quick, but we’re here and I’m excited. I’m looking to make the most of every single opportunity that I get,” Nickal said.

Back in March, Nickal submitted middleweight Jamie Pickett (13-9) via arm triangle in the first round of his debut UFC fight. Prior to that, he competed on Dana White’s Contender Series 49 and 56 where he secured wins by submission.

Now, Nickal looks to extend his win streak and work toward earning fights against ranked middleweight opponents.

“For me, it’s just about doing what I know how to do and going out there performing to the best of my ability,” he said. “(It) doesn’t really matter who I’m facing.”

Nickal opens the main card at 10 p.m. EST for UFC 290 on Saturday, at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. The fight can be watched via ESPN pay-per-view.