The untimely death of up-and-coming Bellator fighter Jordan Parsons on May 4 had a ripple effect on the entire mixed martial arts community, sending out waves which reached the man who was scheduled to fight Parsons just two weeks after the hit-and-run accident which claimed his life, Adam Piccolotti.
Piccolotti had spent weeks thinking about Parsons, whom he was supposed to fight on May 14 in San Jose, the way future fighters often think about future opponents: This was the man standing in my way. This is a person on whom I have to inflict physical damage before he does it to me.
In the blink of an eye, those thoughts were gone, as Piccolotti instead found himself pondering the fragility of life itself.
"It was really tough," the Northern California-based lightweight contender told MMAFighting.com. "Obviously it was far tougher on his friends and families and teammates, but to have that happen to someone that young, around my age, knowing he was trying to build his life the same way I am, that led to a lot of sleepless nights. I'd lie awake in bed trying to make sense of it all."
Piccolotti, however, persevered, and in the process, managed to mark himself as a fighter to watch. Given a new Bellator 154 opponent in Ray Wood, Piccolotti won via rear-naked choke in the opening round, upping his record to 8-0.
"It was almost like I had to shut my brain off and go on autopilot in order to get through it all," Piccolotti said. "There was so much to process, from what happened to Jordan, to adjusting to a new opponent, and all that. "At the end of the day I had to remind myself that I still had my goals to focus on, that I can only control my own situation. I'd been working so many years to get into a position to show my skills like this, and I couldn't had to focus on that to get through it all."
Poise under pressure should serve Piccolotti well as he begins to make his mark on the Bellator lightweight division. The native of Half Moon Bay, Calif., a sleepy hamlet about an hour north of San Francisco will face his biggest career test on Saturday night, when he returns to HP Pavilion to meet veteran Brandon Girtz (14-4) on the main card of Bellator 165.
"It's coming together," Piccolotti said. "Bellator's done a good job making each fight bigger and better than the previous one and I'm excited to have a chance to get on to the main card of one of the big shows and show what I can do."
Piccolotti got his start as a wrestler before picking up jiu-jitsu and ultimately earning a black belt. He describes himself as a casual MMA fan growing up.
"I wasn't super hardcore about it," Piccolotti said. "I'd watch the shows with my friends and was mostly interested in how wrestlers did. Like, If Matt Hughes was fighting, I'd be interested in seeing him shoot the double to set up the rest of his offense, that kind of thing."
But it planted the seed for a potential fighting career.
"Here's the thing, in wrestling, in jiu-jitsu, on the mats I didn't mind getting dirty and I didn't mind getting hit," Piccolotti said. "If I ended up with a bloody nose, or gave someone a black eye, it didn't matter to me. One by one I started trying boxing and kickboxing and one thing just led to another.
Piccolotti, who splits his time about 50/50 between Raul Castillo Martial Arts in Half Moon Bay and American Kickboxing Academy, has shown a range of skills early in his career. He's got six finishes in his eight wins and is 4-0 in Bellator, winning his past three bouts via submission.
That leads to his biggest career test to date in Girtz. While Bellator has been criticized for having too many throwaway fights on their tentpole cards, this isn't one of them. Piccolotti is a legit prospect, and Girtz has done some of his best work since moving his base to Denver's Grudge camp. He'll take a three-fight win streak with five out of six.
The bout will be a divisional showcase on a night headlined by a bout between current lightweight champ Michael Chandler and Benson Henderson.
"I know this is a big night, but I'm not too worried about it," Piccolotti said. "Brandon's the type of fighter who sees himself as an old-school kind of tough guy, but I'm more well-rounded than he is and I'm ready to beat him wherever the fight goes. The guys in the main event should watch my fight, too, because some day soon I'm coming for that belt."