Fans have seen Aaron Pico’s highlight reel knockouts over the years but in his most recent fight, his submission game was displayed that opened up a lot of new eyeballs.
Pico returns to action against John de Jesus at Bellator 252. The event takes place Nov. 12 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. and will air on the CBS Sports Network.
After going winless in 2019, the 24-year-old has finished both of his fights in 2020. Pico knocked out Daniel Carey in the second round at Bellator 238 in January and, in the promotion’s first event after the COVID-19 pandemic halted their schedule, he submitted Solo Hatley Jr. in just over two minutes at July’s Bellator 242 event.
Finding comfort and a home at Jackson Wink, Pico believes his recent win over Hatley not only put Bellator fans in a state of excitement, but also the featherweight division on notice.
“I think so, and even with my losses the division knows I’m a big, big threat,” Pico told MMA Fighting while appearing on What the Heck. “I’ve just grown as a martial artist and as a person with the time I’ve spent here in New Mexico. The thing is I just need time to become a good fighter and I continue to grow as a person, in the gym, and in the cage.
“I think the people in the division know that I can beat all of those guys. I definitely can beat all of them and, especially with what I’m learning now from Coach Greg (Jackson) and the coaches at JW, I’ll fight anybody in the world. But the weight class is on notice for sure.”
Pico will now face 21-fight veteran John de Jesus who enters the bout on a three-fight winning streak. “Platano” earned back-to-back stoppage wins on the regional scene which earned him an opportunity to compete for Bellator. In his promotional debut, de Jesus snapped the nine-fight winning streak of Vladyslav Parubchenko at August’s Bellator 244 event via unanimous decision.
With more than half of de Jesus’ wins not going to the judges’ scorecards, Pico knows he’s in for an exciting fight.
“Honestly, I didn’t know much about him but I definitely know a lot about him now,” Pico said. “I’ve watched a lot of video on him, my coaches have been studying him and he’s a very tough opponent. I’m excited to fight guys like this because he does a lot of flying stuff, flying knees and crazy stuff, and that’s something that I want to see in the cage.”
Although de Jesus has almost triple the in-cage experience as he does, Pico feels he brings a lot of intangibles to the fight that his veteran opponent will not be ready for no matter what he does in the training room.
“I’m excited to go in there and fight. I really, really am,” Pico explained. “I’m really excited to push the pace on him and I don’t think he’s ever fought a guy that has a gas tank like me, has wrestling like me, that has power and ultimately has the coaching like I do. He probably has good coaches with him but he doesn’t have coaches like me.”
In a more calculated approach to his career, Pico still knows his name holds a good amount of weight in the promotion. One of the original blue chip prospects in the sport, Pico has experienced the swings that MMA can provide.
When it comes to appropriate steps in the evolution of his career, the former Golden Gloves champion and national champion wrestler doesn’t look at it through that lens anymore. In fact, he plans to put so much pressure on his opponent that de Jesus won’t know how to react to it.
“At the end of the day I fought Lee Morrison that was 19-8 early in my career, I fought Leandro Higo, I fought Borics, I’ve fought guys with winning records my whole career,” Pico stated. “I didn’t nearly have the knowledge that I have now. This is a very good matchup for me but every fight that I go into I feel like it’s a world championship fight. All of the pressure is on me and there’s really not much pressure on him. This is a legit fight and one I’m taking very, very seriously.
“He’s a very good striker and I hope he throws flying stuff. I hope he throws spinning stuff. I really do because I’ve been working with my coaches on all of that stuff. My ground game is good, my composure has gotten a lot better. You’re not going to see me in those fire fights and swinging for the fences, you’re going to see a calculated, calm intensity.
“I’m gonna do everything I possibly can to chew his body up, kick his legs, take him down, elbow him in the eyes and I’m going to make things very dirty. I don’t think he’s ever seen anything like that. I’m going to make it a very dirty fight and I don’t think he’s going to be able to breathe after the first round, honestly.”
With Bellator transitioning to a new broadcast partner with CBS Sports Network, as well as a working relationship with Showtime, Pico sees a lot of opportunity to continue to grow in the combat sports world. While he’s not looking past de Jesus, or his MMA career, if he has the chance to take his talents from the cage to the boxing ring, he would love to spread his wings a little bit more.
“I think it’s very good for Bellator,” Pico said. “Boxing, that’s something that I really want to do. In-between fights, if I have a month or two to go and just train boxing I’d love to get a boxing fight in if it’s possible so it’s great for Bellator. But the most important thing for me is Nov. 12 and growing as a fighter.
“I really would like to get a boxing fight in if they can throw me on a card. My manager would have to talk to Bellator but I can definitely box so I’ll be asking my manager if there will be an opportunity to step in the ring because I definitely would do it.”