PISCATAWAY, N.J. — It's not hard to see that Bo Nickal revels being in the spotlight.
He's come up when it's mattered most for Penn State at some of the most crucial times in program history over the last five years.
Among Nickal's late-match heroics are a pin in the 184 pound finals of the NCAA Tournament to clinch the
team title for Penn State in 2018 and in other important duals or postseason moments over his time donning a blue and white singlet.
Key to Nickal's success was the three-time NCAA champion's unforgiving cross-face cradle, unrelenting offense and unmistakable flair — whether that meant donning blue hair or toying with an opponent on the mat.
Innate talent aside, it's also Nickal's penchant for showmanship in big moments that very quickly endeared him to the Penn State faithful, who he considers to be the best fans in the sport.
"I feel like the way I wrestle is kind of how I am as a person. Everyday, the way I live my life is very similar to the way I wrestle and I'm not afraid to take risks, I wanna have fun, I wanna enjoy it and be exciting," Nickal said. "I think that when you wrestle that way, then the fans tend to really enjoy that."
With Nickal's love of the spotlight and high pressure situations it's then perhaps only fitting that the Allen, Texas, native is the final match of the night at Final X: Rutgers where he'll go against reigning 92 kg world champion and Olympic bronze medalist J'Den Cox for a spot on the United States World Team.
After graduating a few weeks ago, Nickal has transitioned right from college wrestling to freestyle, but his goals have remained constant — dethroning whoever's in his way en route to winning World and Olympic gold medals.
This time, it just happens to be Cox.
"Obviously, J'Den is a really great wrestler and he does stuff that you've never seen anybody else do before. With that he definitely has a unique style and he brings stuff to the table that is super difficult but I'm excited to compete," Nickal said. "At the end of the day, my goal is to be a World champion and Olympic champion, so I've got to beat the best and I'm really excited for the opportunity to finally get to do that."
Cox isn't resting on his laurels though.
In fact, it were up to the Columbia, Missouri, native, his name likely wouldn't be preceded by phrases like "reigning world champion" or any other moniker that connotes the success he's had at the international level.
Instead, Cox insists his job is to forget the past and only look forward even if that means not stopping to enjoy the moment.
"The moment I stepped off that mat, and you can ask KJ [former Olympic champion and US National Freestyle coach Kevin Jackson] you can ask anyone, people had to tell me to enjoy the moment," Cox said. "Because as soon as that day passed, I was no longer a world champion in my mind."
It's for that reason that Cox feels he doesn't have a target on his back and rejects the notion but admits Nickal and others are coming for him.
For him, the desire to take his opponent is mutual.
"There is no target on my back. People are coming for me to take me out but at the same time, I'm coming to take them out. You're trying to take something from me, Cox said. "I don't have an opportunity at a world title right now. I'm on no team, I haven't made a team, I haven't got anything. So for me, that world title means nothing."
Call it humility on Cox's part to disregard his accolades, but the magnitude of the opponent and the moment, which is being billed as the main event for Final X, isn't lost on Nickal.
Rather, it's because of Nickal's competitive nature and desire to become the best that he feels he'll be atop his game on Saturday night.
"I love competing at the highest levels, I want the pressure. That's what gets me going. It gets me excited. Honestly, a lot of matches during the NCAA season this year, I was like 'Man, I don't even know if I wanna go out there,'" Nickal said. "The things that get me excited to go out there are when I have a good opponent and when I know it's gonna be a good match and that's how I know I'm gonna wrestle my best. I'm excited to be able to have that opportunity."