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Rising star not ‘second coming of Jesus Christ,’ UFC 300 foe says

Cody Brundage understands the odds are stacked against him when he steps in the cage with emerging superstar Bo Nickal on Saturday night’s UFC 300 card at T-Mobile Arena.

But the +1,200 underdog says the hype around Nickal may be getting just a bit out of control.

“Obviously I’m a little biased, but that seems pretty wild,” Brundage said. “I know people think he’s like the second coming of Jesus Christ in MMA, but I just don’t see it.”

He is, however, generally seen as the next big star of the UFC.

Nickal has looked close to invincible in his five professional mixed martial arts bouts, barely taking a punch against opponents who have mostly resembled the cow that got dropped into the raptor enclosure at feeding time in “Jurassic Park.”

His dominance has made for some unique challenges for UFC matchmakers. He’s still inexperienced in the sport, so it’s tough to pit him up against one of the top challengers in the middleweight division. But it’s almost unfair to put him against anyone outside the top 10, either.

Brundage is a solid veteran coming off two wins, but isn’t ranked.

Nickal’s placement as the first fight on Saturday’s pay-per-view card appears to be a way to showcase the three-time NCAA national champion wrestler into a much bigger spotlight with title contention on the horizon.

There’s no question about the depth of the event, which includes two title fights in addition to a “BMF” — baddest (expletive) — battle between Justin Gaethje and Max Holloway. Even the first fight on the preliminary card features a battle of former champions in Deiveson Figueiredo and Cody Garbrandt.

“It’s massive for me,” Nickal said. “There will be so many people watching. Every fight for me is the biggest of my career, and that’s definitely true this week. Every time I go in there, it’s a chance to grow as a person, as a fighter and grow the attention on me.”

There was already a lot of focus on the 28-year-old before he stepped into a cage, largely due to a 120-3 collegiate record at Penn State and eye-popping athleticism.

But each performance has only raised the bar on what’s expected of Nickal. He needed just 33 seconds to win his 2022 pro debut, then won a pair of fights on “Dana White’s Contender Series” in less than two minutes combined.

Nickal made his official UFC debut in March 2023 and controlled veteran Jamie Pickett on the mat for nearly three minutes before finally locking in the decisive submission. Newcomer Val Woodburn offered far less resistance in July 2023, with Nickal dispatching him in 38 seconds.

Nickal knows the expectations have been raised to unsustainable levels by his path of destruction.

“My first fight, I got a lot of response from people who were like, ‘He stuffed your first takedown,’” Nickal laughed. “I took him down in like 20 seconds. It was confusing. Given where I’m at, everyone will have an opinion. Some will be negative, and that’s fine. When I do eventually get hit and people want to bash me for it, that’s fine. It doesn’t affect my mentality or my goals or where I’m headed. It’s going to happen at some point, it just hasn’t yet.”

Brundage says he’s the guy to do it, and he says there are questions about how Nickal will respond when he does face adversity.

“His confidence is untouchable, and I feel that’s one of his superpowers,” Brundage said. “But you don’t know what you don’t know. The guy has never been hit in the face. It’s fun when you’re running through everybody, but it’s different when you’re the nail, and even he doesn’t know how he’s going to react to that.”

Nickal does push back on the notion he hasn’t been challenged, pointing to his daily battles in the gym and his many tough battles through a long amateur wrestling career.

He said the brief amount of time he’s spent in the cage in front of fans is just a snapshot of what a pro fighter endures.

“Any time I go into a fight, it’s a test,” he said. “There’s a lot that accompanies that from training camps to injuries to the nerves of fight week and stepping into the octagon. Those are all tests. That being said, I haven’t met a lot of resistance in the actual physical fights. I haven’t been hit yet. I don’t think I can say I’ve been tested in a fight, but I think the whole experience is a true test.”

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on X.

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