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“The Spartan” is a pretty apt nickname for Professional Fighters League star Alex Nicholson. Not only does the hulking heavyweight have a beard that would make King Leonidas proud, but he also trains with a regimen worthy of an ancient Greek warrior.
The 29-year-old hopes to (literally) punch his ticket to the PFL heavyweight tournament championship on New Year’s Eve with a pair of wins on Thursday, Oct. 31. Nicholson will face Brazilian bruiser and fellow UFC veteran Francimar Barroso in a quarterfinals playoff showdown, a rematch of their PFL 3 slugfest, which “Bodão” won via unanimous decision. If Nicholson can get past Barroso, he’ll have to immediately fight the winner of Mo De’Reese vs. Jared Rosholt that same night for a chance to head to the finals.
As you can imagine for a 222-pound knockout artist with 13 vicious striking finishes under his belt, Nicholson is likely going head-hunting when he next steps in the cage. In his last fight against Zeke Tuinei-Wily at PFL 6, Nicholson put on a violent display, finishing the Xtreme Couture product with a barrage of punches for a first-round technical knockout.
“I train to beat the shit out of somebody for 15 minutes,” Nicholson tells Muscle & Fitness. “Like for instance, what I did last time. I mean, I broke his orbital bone. I beat him up.”
If there’s still any question about his KO power, just ask one of Nicholson’s training partners. While the rising heavyweight star works with a ton of talented fighters at American Top Team, Nicholson admits that he can get intense during sparring sessions. Often, he’ll put together rounds where his goal is to only go for the knockout, and not everyone can hang with that.
“We got to bring in tons of guys,” says Nicholson. “Most of the time there’s nobody for me to spar.”
When he doesn’t have a partner to throw hands with, Nicholson will turn to beating up heavy bags or hitting mitts, though the latter can be a challenge too since few people in the world have the strength to hold them for him. “I’ve broken two people’s arms while they were holding mitts for me,” says Nicholson. “It’s not a cool thing, like, you don’t want to hurt the guy holding mitts for you.”
Although he knows how to dish it, Nicholson has trained to take a beating as well since he wants to put a show on for the fans every time, regardless of the results. “Just keep my chin down and try to roll with the punches, and return them harder,” Nicholson says. “I like to go out there and make it exciting, whether you see me walk away with a win or a loss, you see both people are hurt.”
While he always goes for finishes, Nicholson knows that cardio is king in MMA, especially for heavyweights who sometimes have trouble making it into the later rounds without gassing. “I train three times a day,” he says. “I wake up. I always do cardio, whether it be sprints or at least a three-mile run.”
After his 6 a.m. cardio training, Nicholson hits the showers and tries to work in a quick nap before pumping iron with his father, a seasoned personal trainer, followed by an hour to hour-and-a-half long grappling or striking session in the evenings. “This is every day of my life for the past about seven years now,” Nicholson says. “It’s just my life. I mean, it’s not fight camp. It’s another day.”