Los Angeles, CA — Still just 23-years-old, Aaron Pico has had more pressure put on him than almost any prospect in MMA history. Pico (5-3) entered the fight scene in 2017, having signed with Bellator as a highly talented amateur wrestler who had qualified for the Olympic trials in 2016 at the tender age of 19.
Right out of the gate, the hype machine went into overdrive — but Pico was submitted in seconds by unknown lightweight Zach Freeman at Bellator 180. After moving down to featherweight, he bounced back with four straight wins, all finishes, and it seemed the experts were right on Pico.
Pico was suddenly a question mark. The most sure-fire prospect in years was in trouble. He was left out of the featherweight grand prix when it kicked off last September.
Even more pressure for a developing fighter, one who had always opted to face the stiffest opposition. Case in point, at the time Pico faced them, his opponents have tallied a combined record of 98-26.
His return at Bellator 238 was key, in other words. A third straight loss, and the word “bust” would no doubt be affixed next to Pico’s name by an MMA fanbase that generally has the attention span of a fruit fly. Luckily, things went the opposite direction for Pico, who has been working with Jackson-Wink MMA in Albuquerque, New Mexico. A second-round knockout of Daniel Carey put Pico back in the win column Saturday.
“The moment feels really good. I feel honestly really really humbled, honestly,” Pico told reporters back stage at The Forum in Los Angeles when asked about the feeling of getting back in the win column. “It was a tough 2019 year for sure. It was really hard, I said a lot of crazy things. My family heard me out, I was venting a lot. But I have to give it up to the coaches at Jackson-Wink, they brought me in, and man they put a lot of damn time in with me, and were there for me every single day of the week to really help me. I have nothing but great things to say.”
Leading up to the fight, “to be honest with you I was feeling really good,” he said. A good sign, as a couple bad losses can shake a fighter. “This whole fight week I felt good. My training has gone so, so well over there in Albuquerque. I just felt relaxed, I really did. I’d done everything I possibly can to prepare myself. And this is the first fight that I’ve taken time to really study MMA with the coaches. Seven months of working every single day to become a better martial artist.”
“It was a great team effort tonight, honestly,” he summed up. “It was really, really, really good for us. Good for me and my family.”
Who will be next is the question for any fighter after a win, as hard as it is to play matchmaker immediately after a fight. But there were no callouts from Pico on Saturday. “I’m in no position to be calling people out, honestly,” he explained. “I wish I could, there’s a lot of people I would like to fight, but I’ll leave it up to the management and Bellator. When I start getting my wins back, I’ll make it known who I want to fight and stuff. But right now, I want to just keep chipping away every single day.”
A time table for his next bout, on the other hand, Pico was happy to address. “I want to get back in there. The big goal for me in 2020 is to get time in the cage. I want to get back in there as soon as possible. I didn’t take any damage, so whenever I get the call I’ll be ready. I’ll definitely be training.”
Another topic Saturday, Pico’s move from Antonio McKee’s Team Bodyshop to Jackson-Wink MMA in New Mexico. McKee and Pico were seen conversing after the fight. “The thing is, Antonio and I are very close,” said Pico. “We talk a lot on the phone. I just talked to him three days ago for like two hours on the phone.”
“Me moving to Jackson-Wink, honestly had nothing to do [with him],” he explained. “Everything was good here, you know? It was just hard for me to go all over and train.”
A change, said Pico, was necessary, not just for his training, but for his personal life as well. And it appears to have pair off. “Albuquerque’s been good. When I went to Jackson-Wink and I met Greg and I met all the coaches there, I really felt at home.”
After the fight, rather than soak in the moment, Pico was seen hurrying back stage. He explained this by saying that “I just went to the back and did like a silent scream, because I had so much emotion running through my body. I just wanted to get to the back and let it all out. So that’s what I did.”
Watch the full Bellator 238 post-fight press conference with Aaron Pico above!