From the moment Bo Nickal arrived in the UFC, the hype was at full throttle. But even the former Penn State wrestling standout admits the speed of his MMA career has taken him by surprise.

“Yeah, absolutely,” he told reporters during UFC 290 media day in Las Vegas.

“You know, 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. And that’s, to me, what every single fight is – it’s a big opportunity. And I’m just excited to perform.”

Nickal’s lead-up to fight week at UFC 290 was thrown up in the air with the news of the injury sustained by his scheduled opponent, Tresean Gore. It forced Gore out of the matchup and, briefly, left Nickal without an opponent, as the risk of missing out on the event became a reality.

“I found out on Monday evening, while I was training, that my opponent had pulled out and no, initially, I’m just like, dang it, like 10 weeks at camp, we’re not going to get a fight. What am I going to do? It was in the middle of my workout.

“I might as well just finish this workout, so I just went and finished up and then talked with my manager, and he was like, ‘We think they might have a couple of guys for you. We’ll find out in the morning what the situation is.’ So then, in the morning, I got a bout agreement, and I’m ready to go. So, I signed it, and here we are.”

The new matchup will see Nickal take on Val Woodburn, who steps up on short notice to make his UFC debut. It meant Nickal could continue with his pre-fight preparations, albeit with the knowledge that he’s facing a different opponent on fight night.

“There were concerns just because, for me initially, I’m not the type of guy to do last-minute switch-ups and stuff,” he admitted.

“I’m very calculated, planned and I felt like a little unsure of what to do. But the more we thought about it, the more I talked to my team – I’m just very fortunate to have a great team. They led me in the right direction. I trust those people.

“At the end of the day, I made the decision of what we’re going to do, but I think I’m always trying to build my reputation. It doesn’t matter who I’m fighting. I’m just trying to go out there and do my best.”

Nickal also glanced into his crystal ball to offer a prediction of how his career will be faring in 12 months’ time.

“(By) International Fight Week next summer, I plan on, at minimum, fighting ranked opponents (and) getting right up there in title contention,” he stated.

“Hopefully, I can continue to get fights. The most important part about that is getting fights, getting opponents, getting the right opponents. But I think at that point I will be closing in on my goals of being UFC champ.”

Before then, Nickal has to face Woodburn at UFC 290 in a bout that has him as a colossal -2400 favorite with some of the Vegas sportsbooks. Despite the odds looking prohibitive, Nickal joked that fans should still back him to win, regardless of the odds.

“Great value. Hammer it!”