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Aaron Pico draws inspiration from watching Khabib Nurmagomedov, Kamaru Usman ahead of Bellator 242

Aaron Pico Esther Lin/MMAFIGHTING.COM

Despite three early career losses, Aaron Pico has found himself more drawn to MMA than ever before.

Pico looks to build on a highlight-reel knockout win at January’s Bellator 238 event when he takes on Solo Hatley Jr. on Friday at Bellator 242. The event takes place at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Conn., and is headlined by a bantamweight matchup between Sergio Pettis and Ricky Bandejas.

Over the past year, the 23-year-old Pico has become a true student of the game, constantly consuming a variety of MMA bouts on a daily basis. He’s drawn inspiration watching some of the UFC’s most dominant champions past and present.

“I watch tape of everybody,” Pico told MMA Fighting at the Bellator 242 virtual media day. “[I watch] my opponent, Kamrau Usman, Khabib [Nurmagomedov], Valentina [Shevchenko], Amanda [Nunes], [Jose] Aldo, Petr Yan, I’m watching everybody. I watch five or six fights a day. I wake up in the morning, watch two fights, go to practice and watch more fights.

“I really, really studied the game. After all the losses, I really truly fell in love with the sport of MMA. I really love it and I’m learning a lot. I hope to be a world champion.”

When asked about his specific favorite, Pico said he’s watched a lot of footage on Nurmagomedov and Shevchenko – but it’s Usman, who just defeated Jorge Masvidal to defend the UFC welterweight title, that seems to get the most educational viewing.

“My top-three favorite fighters are Kamaru Usman, Khabib and Valentina,” Pico said. “I love those fighters and, of course, there’s a lot of great fighters out there.

“I watch a lot of Kamaru Usman. I love his style. Some people think his last fight was boring, I thought it was beautiful. He got the win and, most importantly, he retained the belt.”

After losing his pro debut to Zach Freeman at Bellator NYC in June 2017, Pico had four consecutive ferocious opening-round finishes of Justin Linn, Shane Krutchen, Lee Morrison and Leandro Higo.

In 2019, Pico again struggled, getting finished in back-to-back fights by Henry Corrales and Adam Borics. The losses led the amateur wrestling standout to take a deep look inside himself as a mixed martial artist and a true student of the game.

While Pico admits a title fight is several fights away, he can add featherweight and lightweight champion Patricio “Pitbull” Freire to the list of fighters he studies and plans on gaining more knowledge from.

“I think he’s top-three in the world, I really do,” Pico said of ‘Pitbull.’ “He’s a veteran of the sport, and when we have to fight him, we’re going to be very well prepared. We’ll be in the lab with all the coaches studying that guy for sure. There’s a reason why he’s at where he’s at, top-three at 145 in the world.”

On Friday night, he takes on a confident and hungry Hatley Jr., who enters the fight a winner of two straight, and eight out of nine. “The I.R.S. Man” was signed by Bellator following his split decision win over Gaston Balanos at Bellator 239 in February.

Hatley has had a lot of things to say about his opponent, which is just fine with Pico.

“I just see myself going out there and competing,” Pico stated. “I know he’s confident, which I really like, but I just have to use my skills and not worry about it being a fight. It’s competition, I need to be smart, I’ve got to be strategic and do what I have to do to win.

“I’m not really worried too much about him. I think he’s the one who is starstruck, ‘I’m fighting Aaron Pico. He’s not this, he’s not that.’ I’m not really focused on him. I’m focused on myself, calming my emotions down, and competing. It sounds like he’s more worried about me. He’s so worried about me, but sometimes you need to just focus on yourself.”

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