When Phillipe Lins and Josh Copeland fought each other in the Professional Fighters League (PFL) finals they had something in common, they both beat Alex “The Spartan” Nicholson to get there. Lins did it in the second regular season matchup and Copeland defeated him in the semi-finals to reach the championship match. At home in Florida, Nicholson could only think of what could’ve been as he believes that it was himself who beat him and not his opponents.
“I had Phillipe and Josh pretty much finished, charged in…I still think Phillipe got the stoppage way too early and I think the fight was stopped with him more hurt than me. But I can make all the excuses in the world and none of it matters. To me it was nothing those guys did good, its what I did bad and that’s why they won. So this year, I’m gonna make sure those things don’t happen.”
The offseason afforded Nicholson the longest layoff of his career. The 29-year-old from Florida had always had a quick turnaround between fights. But he was able to make changes to his game, including working on his patience and his strength. Nicholson put on a significant amount of weight because the majority of the fighters in PFL’s heavyweight division had forty or more pounds on him and the New York State Athletic Commission won’t let fighters who are forty pounds a part fight each other.
Though he didn’t become the heavyweight champion as he set out to do, Nicholson became part of the face of the PFL when he landed a highlight worthy flying knee in his opening bout against Jake Heun. That knee became a top ten moment on Sportscenter and earned himself an opportunity in season two according to Nicholson.
“After I did the jump knee against Jake Heun, I got top ten plays of the day man, it was the first time PFL was on ESPN. I talked to Carlos and Ray and they loved me and I loved the company, they looked out for me.”
Finishes are the name of the game for Nicholson as he has only gone to a decision twice in his 20-fight professional career. Last season, all four of his fights for the PFL ended via a finish.
“I’m going to go out there and I’m going to do my thing and the world knows that. It’s good to be respected for that.”
And he wants fans to know that’s what they should expect from him this season as well which he attributes to his training partners.
“They’re going to see knockouts man, I’m going to be dropping dudes and I’m going to be technically picking them apart. Going to be smart and calculated, beautiful mixed martial arts. I’ve been grappling with Jacare Souza, Rodolpho Rivera and these guys have been showing me things, Julien Williams, me and Mike are always getting it in. just have a great squad, a great team. I’ve been working with Roger Krahl over at ATT Sunrise, he’s going to be in my corner holding mitts for me, Morgan Mira talking game plans, just everything is coming together. I’m almost 30, I’m 29 years old, I feel like I’m at the top of my game, mentally, physically, spiritually and its going to be a rough night for every man who has to stand across from me this year.”
This first person who will stand in front of Nicholson this year will be Francimar Barroso. Like Nicholson, Barroso is a UFC veteran who fell short in last year’s tournament. Barroso actually went undefeated last year in the PFL but didn’t advance in the playoffs after a draw that saw Josh Copeland advance due to the structure of the playoffs. Nicholson likes Barroso as a person but believes the matchup lends itself to him.
“I think if I could keep my distance I can pick him apart. I think we both know that too, so he’s going to try and close the distance. I think that’s going to be the game. If he gets too close, I think, like I said, he’s going to find out I’m a much better grappler than the world gives me credit for.”
PFL 3 can be seen on ESPN 2 and ESPN Plus on Thursday, June 6.