A few years ago, when Aaron Pico was about to start his MMA career, the idea of being a two-sport world champion did not seem out of the question.
Pico medaled three separate years in his age group at the world championships in wrestling, including winning one world title. And with his childhood boxing background, he was considered one of the best prospects to come into MMA even years before he had his first fight.
Pico was beating top-ranked wrestlers in the world at 17, and nearly made the Olympic team at 19. A world championship in wrestling was hardly out of the question.
After four pro fights, it should be premature to talk about a world championship in MMA, because there are a lot of tests still on the horizon. But after sending Lee Morrison (19-9) flying from a left to the body and finishing him in just 1:10 at Bellator’s show in San Jose, Calif., on Saturday, it’s hard not to think that the possibility is there.
That’s not the final goal, though. Pico is now finished with the sport of wrestling, one in which he really never saw how far he could go.
He’s concentrating on MMA for now, but his goal after winning an MMA world title is to do the same in boxing. It’s something only Holly Holm has done as far as winning world titles in both sports, but in her case there was far less competition depth than there would be for Pico battling 145-pound men.
“Absolutely, I would love to get some boxing fights in,” said Pico (3-1) on Saturday night after his win. “When I started boxing at 10 or 11 years old, I thought I was going to do full-on professional boxing. I thought I was going to go to the Olympics in boxing, and a couple of guys who I’ve beaten were on the Olympic team for 2016.
“I was a really high-level boxer, I had 30 amateur fights. But as I was approaching high school, I said I’ve got to get back to wrestling, and went back to wrestling, did MMA and Pankration. But it’s not a matter if I want to get boxing fights. I’m eventually going to get boxing bouts. I love boxing.”
“When I go into boxing, I’m not there to take it as a joke,” he added. “I feel I’m capable of being a world champion in boxing, and a lot of people will think I’m crazy. But I spar with the best in the world. I’ve been Miguel Cotto’s sparring partner for the last two fights of his career. So when I do go into boxing, I’ll try to be the best in the world and be a world champion, and I feel I’m capable. If you ask Freddie Roach if I’m capable of being a world champion in boxing and in MMA, I’m 100-percent sure he’s going to say ‘yes.’
“When the time gets right and I get really serious about crossing over and doing both, all parties will have to sit down at the table and figure out what to do and that’s going to be a very tight schedule, but it’s nothing that I’m not used to.
“The most important thing right now is becoming the best fighter in MMA. Boxing right now is second. It’s a big passion, and I want to cross over eventually. But the most important thing is to become the best fighter in the world.
“He’s going to take this as far as he can,” Bellator president Scott Coker said. “If he become world champion, great. He can defend it. If he wants to go to boxing, we’re fine with that. If he wants to become the greatest martial arts or combat sports fighter on the planet, go ahead and go for it.”
The win was Pico’s third straight first-round finish after a stunning loss in his debut in Madison Square Garden when he tapped out in 24 seconds. It was his second straight left hook to the body knockout, and this one was even more visually impressive since the punch sent Morrison head-over-heels, almost reminiscent to the often-replayed punch that Brock Lesnar nailed Heath Herring with early in his career.
“When I think about the potential of that kid, it’s unbelievable scary how good he’s gotten in such a short period of time,” Coker said. “But that’s the reason we signed him. Bob Cook came to me when [Pico] was 17 years old and said, ‘You’ve got to sign this kid.’ We tried to sign him then, but the lawyers said, ‘You can’t, you have to wait until he turns 18.’ So when he turned 18 we signed him to a contract and what you’ve seen has been building toward today.”
“The thing is, this kid has only had three or four fights but he looks out there like a kid with the composure and relaxation of a fighter who has had 15 to 20 fights. He doesn’t look like a kid with three fights.”
Pico had has four fights in less than 11 months as a pro, which sounds like a hard schedule, but the total time of his fights is less than six minutes. Pico took no damage on Saturday and even said if there was a pull-out for Bellator 200 on May 25 in London, he’s up for it.
“I’d love to go to London,” he said. “I’ve never been there.”
“I’m excited about Aaron, but I’m also excited about James Gallagher and A.J. McKee,” Coker said. “At some point these guys will fight each other. Let these kids get their reps in. Sometimes these things don’t work out. My job is to test them and get to the big fights.”