Eric Nicksick (C) with Sean Strickland (R) and Johnny Eblen (@eric_xcmma/Instagram page)

Combat Press 2023 MMA Awards: Coach of the Year – Eric Nicksick

A new year is here, and that means it’s time for Combat Press to take a look back at the best of MMA in 2023. In the coming days, Combat Press will announce its award winners in multiple categories, covering everything from the action in the cage to the biggest stories surrounding the sport.

Most of the glory in mixed martial arts goes to the fighters, and rightfully so, since they are the ones putting their bodies on the line throughout training camp and during the fight. However, without the proper coaching, no fighter would be able to reach the pinnacle of success. In 2023, that was perfectly exemplified with fighters under the tutelage of Eric Nicksick.

Sean Strickland shocked the world to become the UFC middleweight champion, when he defeated Israel Adesanya, an accomplishment that would not have been possible without Nicksick. As head coach, Nicksick would be responsible for coming up with the game plan to defeat Adesanya, and, as any smart coach would, he relied heavily on footage from Alex Pereira’s win over Adesanya in 2022, as well as Adesanya’s victory over Pereira in their rematch early in 2023. Strickland isn’t Pereira, and he couldn’t just replicate what the Brazilian did to defeat Adesanya. Nicksick was able to take bits out of Pereira’s game and mold them to fit his pupil.


Throughout the contest, Strickland was able to stifle the offense of Adesanya unlike any other fighter, including Pereira and Jan Blachowicz, the two men to previously defeat “The Last Stylebender.” However, Nicksick’s wisdom wasn’t just confined to the pre-fight planning and game-planning sessions. Throughout the fight, fans were able to hear some of the wisdom of Nicksick in the corner between rounds where he was able to perfectly thread the needle with his advice in order to keep Strickland’s foot on the gas pedal but not becoming reckless. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, Nicksick was conducting the fight as if Strickland was the New York Philharmonic Orchestra putting on another flawless show at David Geffen Hall.

Strickland didn’t miss a note playing all the instruments of the orchestra, but he wouldn’t have been able to pull off such a virtuoso performance without Nicksick keeping perfect time.

Nicksick’s stellar year wasn’t just confined to mixed martial arts. It would be criminal not to mention the work he did with Francis Ngannou in 2023 that led to Ngannou going the distance, and knocking down, heavyweight world champion boxer Tyson Fury. Being able to take a fighter who had never boxed professionally and coach him up to be able to put on a better performance against Fury than many actual former world champion boxers might be even more impressive than the work Nicksick did inside the world of MMA.

With those two fighters leading his stable of combat sports athletes in 2023, Eric Nicksick was a runaway choice for thr Combat Press 2023 MMA Award for Coach of the Year.