There will be no slow build for Aaron Pico.
Few would blame Bellator for giving Pico a showcase fight in his pro MMA debut. One of the top prospects in the history of the sport should be booked very carefully. But Pico wasn’t having any of it — he wanted a veteran right out of the gate.
“I wanted this competition,” Pico told Ariel Helwani on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour. “I train every day to be the best in the world. I told everybody around me, ‘I don’t want to go out there and fight a guy 1-2, 1-0.’ I want to go challenge myself. I know what my abilities are.”
Pico will meet Zach Freeman on the Bellator NYC pay-per-view event June 24 at New York’s Madison Square Garden. It’ll be a high-profile first outing for the blue-chipper. And Freeman is no scrub. He’s 8-2, has been a pro for six years and is a former RFA title contender.
While it is technically his pro debut, Pico has a wealth of competition under his belt, including what he estimates to be 50 Pankration matches, amateur MMA since he was 11 years old, 30 amateur boxing matches and a lifetime of wrestling. At 20 years old, he is probably the most polished prospect in MMA history.
“I always knew MMA was in mind,” Pico said. “I know I have had a professional fight yet, but I’ve been groomed and ready to fight. I don’t feel comfortable fighting a guy that’s 1-2.”
Pico, a Los Angeles-area native, does his MMA training with American Kickboxing Academy coach Bob Cook. Pico said Cook has been coming down from San Jose to Southern California to work with him. Pico also trains in grappling with Eddie Bravo at 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu and spends time at Freddie Roach’s Wild Card boxing gym in Hollywood.
While he is about to begin his first real training camp, this is what Pico has been preparing to do for years, ever since he told his father he didn’t want to be a dirt bike rider when he was a kid. Pico doesn’t expect the bright lights of the Big Apple to get to him.
“I feel that’s where I belong,” Pico said. “I’ve been competing on the biggest stages all my life. This is how I envisioned it — being in Madison Square Garden on a pay-per-view card. I know what I have to do and I’m gonna go get it done June 24.”
One thing that delayed his MMA debut, other than trying to make the Olympic wrestling team, was a torn ACL. That kind of injury is something that could derail others, but Pico looks back on it as a bright spot.
“I think it was a blessing in disguise, honestly,” Pico said. “I’ve been at it since I was 5 years old — wrestling, boxing, all kinds of stuff. I never had a big injury. I had this year to just rehab my knee, clear my head, get ready to fight. It’s crazy to see my numbers go up in terms of strength before my surgery and to see it now. My body needed time to heal. I think it was the best thing that happened to me.”
Pico is 100 percent now and ready to show his well-publicized wares on PPV. Freeman is a tough veteran, who has far more experience. When it comes down to it, though, Pico feels like it won’t matter.
“I know he can’t take me down,” he said. “I know he can’t stand on his feet with me. I know he can’t grapple with me. So, I feel good.”
The only thing left to do, after all the hype, is to step in the cage at MSG and prove it.
“Now it’s here,” Pico said. “Now I’m gonna go get it.”