- Bellator MMA
- Cage fighting’s “next great superstar” Aaron Pico is “going in for the kill” when he fights at Bellator 192 on Saturday.
- Pico tells Business Insider how he was “brought back to life” while laying low in Mexico after a humiliating loss in his debut fight last year.
- He has linked up with combat sports veteran Antonio McKee who guided Pico to a crushing victory in his subsequent fight.
- Pico tells us he has been training for a repeat performance this weekend.
Blue chip cage fighting prospect Aaron Pico has a simple plan for his third professional bout at The Forum in Inglewood, California on Saturday.
That plan involves ramming the tip of his elbow into his opponent’s skull so hard that it “makes him ugly.”
Pico told Business Insider that he is “going for the kill” and expects his opponent Shane Kruchten to “fold” under his pressure at the Bellator 192 event this weekend.
It is a confidence that is perhaps a far cry from the immediate aftermath of the disastrous loss he suffered in his fighting debut last year.
In the build-up to his debut at Bellator 180 in June 2017, Bellator boss Scott Coker told us that Pico will be a “big, big star” in mixed martial arts. According to reports, he could become the next Conor McGregor – the “next great superstar” in the sport.
Coker had so much belief in Pico that for the two years prior to his first fight, Bellator paid the youngster a wage to stay in the gym and train full time as a job. Coker even arranged sessions with some of the most respected trainers in jiu-jitsu and in boxing so that Pico could scrap on his feet and on his back.
He learned boxing from Manny Pacquiao’s coach Freddie Roach and was taught strangleholds by respected submissions expert Eddie Bravo.
But disaster struck in Pico’s debut as the youngster suffered a humiliating 24-second loss.
“It was a terrible feeling,” Pico told Business Insider. “Especially with all that anticipation. It was crazy.”
Explaining how lonely the walk back to the dressing room was, Pico said: “It was a tough pill to swallow. I put my clothes back on, manned up, and faced the media. It’s times like those when you find out who’s actually behind you. I got an Uber, by myself, back to the hotel.”
Pico met family members at the hotel but said he had to “cross the border to Mexico” to lay low. But not long after, he got a phone call that effectively brought him back from the dead.
“I got a call from [former UFC fighter] Antonio McKee and he brought me back to life,” he said.
McKee, a 37-bout veteran in MMA, turned to coaching when he hung up his fighting gloves in 2014. From his base at Bodyshop MMA in California, McKee trains other prospects like his son A.J McKee and Baby Slice – the son of renowned street brawler Kimbo Slice, who died in 2016.
“McKee has known me since I was a kid,” Pico said. “He said he was behind me and can make me the best.”
It is a message that will have resonated with Pico as there is not a day that goes by where he does not visualise becoming a Bellator champion.
Since linking up with McKee, he took a huge step forward to realising that goal as he crushed his next opponent, Justin Linn, in just one round at Bellator 183 in September, 2017.
The nature of the victory was a stark contrast to the “terrible” loss he suffered just three months earlier.
— Bellator MMA (@BellatorMMA) September 24, 2017
“The loss before made the Linn win so much sweeter,” Pico explained. “Especially as I knocked him out on my birthday. It just felt… oh man, now it’s starting. Now my career is starting. Between McKee and my boxing coach Freddie Roach, it’s flowing well, and I’m ready to go.
“After beating Linn I just got straight back to the gym and I haven’t stopped working. I need more experience, cage experience, the lights, big crowds in big shows. I love that stuff. Champion of the world, I think about it every day.”
Standing in Pico’s way is Kruchten, a Marine Corps combat veteran. But, according to Pico, Kruchten won’t be standing for long.
“I’ll take my time and relax but if I have a chance to put him away in 30 seconds, I’ll do that. You don’t take chances in MMA.
“I’m going in for the kill, it’s what I’m trained to do. I’m going to elbow you in the face and make you ugly. That’s my mentality.
He added: “I train hours and hours every day for every fight. That’s why I’m confident and ready to go. You will fold, it’s that simple.”