Much-hyped Aaron Pico can prove he's destined for greatness at Bellator 206

Combat columnist
Yahoo Sports
Aaron Pico celebrates after defeating Lee Morrison in a featherweight mixed martial arts fight at Bellator 199 in <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/soccer/players/372809/" data-ylk="slk:San Jose">San Jose</a>, Calif., Saturday, May 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Aaron Pico celebrates after defeating Lee Morrison in a featherweight mixed martial arts fight at Bellator 199 in San Jose, Calif., Saturday, May 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

There has been no fighter, regardless of the discipline, who turned professional in recent years with the hype that surrounded Bellator’s Aaron Pico in 2017. He was a legend almost before he began.

Not even Floyd Mayweather, who turned pro as a boxer in 1996 after winning a bronze medal in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and went on to become one of the greatest of all-time, didn’t have the predictions of greatness that Pico was given.

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Pico’s debut came at Bellator: New York, the promotion’s biggest event to that point, against Zach Freeman. And as fate would have it, the fight didn’t last 30 seconds.

It was Freeman, though, and not Pico who had his hand raised at the end.

Pico is as blunt and direct as a punch to the nose, and he insists the loss had nothing to do with him being frozen by the moment.

“All the media stuff and the pressure, it doesn’t really faze me at all,” Pico told Yahoo Sports. “Of course, it comes with the territory and it seems like I have always had to deal with it. If you don’t embrace the pressure and you don’t like it, then this is the wrong sport for you. I handled the pressure fine, honestly.

“I just believe I rushed in way too hard. I wanted to come at him and show him what I had. If I could go back in time, I’d tell myself to relax and let him make the first move. It was the luckiest punch of his life and those are the 30 seconds he’ll remember for the rest of his life. He was like, ‘I don’t know what to do, so I’m just going to throw,’ and it landed right on the chin. I was coming in full speed and it was a really lucky punch that dazed me a bit.”

Those are the words of a man who believes in himself, who believes he’s more than just hype and who knows he’s destined for greatness.

Pico has won three consecutive bouts since then, all by first-round knockout, and is again brimming with confidence heading into his bout on Saturday at Bellator 206 in San Jose with veteran Leandro Higa.

If you only know of him from reading his words on a computer screen, he can come off as overly confident, almost to the point of being cocky.

But Aaron Pico the man gives off a different vibe. Elite, world-class athletes like Pico have to be supremely confident, and there is little doubt that Pico is just that. But talk to him and he comes off as a guy who loves to compete and hates to lose.

There are a lot of fighters who hate to lose more than they love to win. Asked that, Pico struggled to answer.

“To me, a loss feels so terrible, but winning is the sweetest thing ever,” Pico said. “Unless you do it or you are around a fighter every day during a camp, I don’t think the average person can fully understand what goes into getting ready for one fight. It overtakes your life and you put everything you have into that. You sacrifice so much and you commit so fully and when you do that and you still lose, it’s the [expletive] worst feeling you could imagine. You have these sick feeling in your stomach and it is just devastating.

“But on the other side of it, when you put in the work like that and you get rewarded for it, I can’t imagine a better feeling. There is nothing better than pushing yourself to the limit in training camp and going out and getting that win when the lights go on.”

Pico is a powerful striker who has high-level boxing skills he honed under Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach, but he is also an elite wrestler. He has reunited with Aaron McKee and says the partnership has made him better.

He’s respectful of Higa’s abilities, but isn’t too worried about a loss.

“He’s not beating me and that’s just a fact,” Pico said. “He knows it’s a big fight for him and he’s going to be motivated by facing me, and I understand that. … It’s the most important fight of his life, but it’s also the most important fight of mine. And you will see, I’m going to fight like that.”

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