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Bo Nickal Partners with American Top Team to Open New MMA Gym in Pleasant Gap

Making a transition from champion wrestler to professional mixed martial arts fighter, Bo Nickal has brought a new MMA gym to Centre County that will serve as a team training center and a community resource.

The three-time NCAA champion at Penn State partnered with one of the nation’s premier MMA teams to build American Top Team-Happy Valley, located at 147 Valor Court in Pleasant Gap.

Nickal is operator of the gym, which opened its doors in July and held a grand opening on Saturday. In addition to serving as the training base for a pro team that includes Nickal and fellow Nittany Lion NCAA champion Anthony Cassar, among others, the gym also offers a variety of classes for people of all ages and skill levels.

“One thing I feel makes this area so special is the support in the community and I’ve really felt that truly for the last seven years since I moved to State College,” Nickal said. “This has been a long process of getting this gym put together and I had so much help along the way.”

Based in Coconut Creek, Florida, American Top Team has nearly 50 facilities in the United States and around the world, along with a lengthy list of pro team members with numerous champions like Antonio Silva, Amanda Nunes, Tyron Woodley and Douglas Lima, to name just a few.

“I can honestly tell you that outside of winning the first UFC championship at our gym, I’ve never seen the excitement at the home gym that I’m seeing from people when they heard we’re going to be opening up a facility here; that we’re going to be tying in with Bo and working with the wrestling program up here and getting the opportunity to work with some of these guys,” American Top Team founder Dan Lambert said.

MMA head coach Marcel Ferreira, Bo Nickal and American Top Team founder Dan Lambert pose for photos after the grand opening of American Top Team-Happy Valley on Saturday, Aug. 21, in Pleasant Gap. Photo by Geoff Rushton | StateCollege.com

The two-story gym has facilities for a professional team the currently includes five fighters. Lambert brought in longtime partner Marcel Ferreira to be the team’s head coach and jiu-jitsu coach and three-time world Muay Thai champion Adaylton Freitas as striking coach.

A two-time jiu-jitsu world champion and one of American Top Team’s first MMA fighters, Ferreira was operating a gym in Dallas when he got the call from Lambert about the Happy Valley facility.

“I had my gym in Dallas and he called me. ‘Hey Marcel I’ve got a huge project in State College. We’re opening American Top Team there with Bo Nickal and making UFC champions. I need your help; I need your knowledge and experience,'” Ferreira said, “I didn’t think twice. I said yes.”

Nickal signed a deal with First Round Management to launch his MMA career in late 2019. Soon after, he announced he was joining American Top Team and working with Lambert to build the new gym. Last year, he trained with Jorge Masvidal to help the UFC welterweight contender prepare for a title bout against Kamaru Usman.

Cassar signed with First Round Management last year and later began training with Nickal and Masvidal.

“It was a good next step after wrestling,” Cassar said. “Not too many pro options as wrestlers and MMA just as a whole excites me so much. The new styles, the new audience, there’s just so much more to it that I’m excited to explore and become a champion at a different craft. It’s just really exciting.”

At Penn State, Cassar and Nickal had the mentorship of Cael Sanderson (who attended the grand opening) and his preeminent staff. Moving down the road, Cassar said, they once again have top-notch tutelage.

“We’re surrounded by champions at Penn State,” Cassar said. “This gym’s no different. We’ve got coach Marcel, multiple time world champion in jiu-jitsu; our striking coach is a multiple time world champion in Muay Thai. We’re surrounded by the best of the best, so there’s going to be no excuse for us not to win.”

Former Penn State wrestler and 2019 NCAA heavyweight champion Anthony Cassar is joining his former Nittany Lion teammate Bo Nickal on the MMA team training at American Top Team-Happy Valley. Photo by Geoff Rushton | StateCollege.com

Nickal said that within the next year he wants to have about five pro fights under his belt.

In the meantime, the gym also offers a number of classes for kids and adults, including mixed martial arts, jiu-jitsu, Muay Thai, submission grappling, self-defense and cardio kickboxing.

“Anyone is more than welcome to train … kindergarten through 12 all the way through adults, and people that are looking for self-defense or any type of combat sport training,” Nickal said. “We’ll have classes available for anyone and everyone all ages.”

The facility is a welcome addition to the community, said Tamara Schuster, president of the Bellefonte Intervalley Area Chamber of Commerce.

A ribbon-cutting and grand opening for American Top Team-Happy Valley was held on Saturday, Aug. 21. Photo by Geoff Rushton | StateCollege.com

“We’re so excited that Bo has opened this facility up for the public,” Schuster said. “It’s going to be wonderful for our community. We are just so proud of everything he has done and what a wonderful role model he is, too.”

Not coincidentally, ATT-Happy Valley is located right behind another Nittany Lion wrestling great’s own facility — Olympic gold medalist David Taylor’s M2 Training Center, which offers wrestling technique and training for youth through high school-age grapplers.

“Obviously David’s got a great thing going with his club, with youth wrestling,” Nickal said. “They’re, in my opinion, the number one youth wrestling club in the country. I’m looking forward to seeing the kids come out of there. If they have interest in MMA already then we’ll have an opportunity for them, but continue to wrestle, maybe wrestle through college then train here by the time they’re ready to be pros or whatever it is.”

Having two high-profile training facilities in Pleasant Gap is a boon to the region, Centre County Commissioners Steve Dershem and Mark Higgins said.

“I think it’s a testament to Cael Sanderson’s impact on our community,” Dershem said. “It gives these guys an incredible opportunity to earn a living and actually have a career after amateur wrestling, collegiate wrestling and now we have an opportunity to see them go into the professional ranks, MMA, UFC and with the Olympics. I think it’s just an amazing opportunity for Centre County to be the focal point of all that energy here in the wrestling community.”

Added Higgins, “In Centre County we’re really working hard with all of our local chambers of commerce, the economic development groups, the Happy Valley Adventure Bureau to make this a really fun place for everybody and especially our active young adults, young professionals, entrepreneurs, small business people. You can get a world-class athletic training for a broad variety of sports right here in Centre County and you’re going to have an average commute of 17 minutes. The views obviously are gorgeous; you have the mountains right here in the backdrop. It’s about quality of life, and this is part of quality of life. You want to do something, you can do it here.”

Lambert, meanwhile, is excited about the Happy Valley team’s prospects and what the gym will bring to the community.

“I can tell you this from experience that working a gym and being around the guys and seeing the journey and where these guys can end up is a really cool thing to be part of,” he said. “I can guarantee you you’re going to see some UFC champions coming out of this place sooner than you think. We’re really excited to be here.”

And for the Texas-born Nickal, building his professional career in his adopted home community where he became a collegiate wrestling legend is a special opportunity.

“I want to go back to the support the community has given me since I first got here to Penn State,” Nickal said. “I wouldn’t be able to do the things I did and now moving onto a new chapter of my life with MMA, being able to get this gym put together [without it]. I appreciate the support y’all have given me so much and I’m looking forward to competing and continuing to build this area up.”