Aaron Pico had to learn to become a man of faith where his career was concerned.
Now that has nothing to do with religious beliefs but instead it revolves around the highly touted Bellator prospect learning to lean on people he could truly trust when it came to his future in the sport.
It’s been well documented that the former Olympic wrestling hopeful and junior Golden Gloves boxing champion was almost destined for greatness when he decided to make the move to MMA. Unfortunately, he found out that nothing is guaranteed in the sport after he suffered a loss in his debut fight.
After four wins in a row, Pico then fell by knockout in back-to-back fights and it started to look like perhaps he was going to be more hype than reality. That’s when Pico made dramatic changes in his approach to fighting after signing with a new manager in Ali Abdelaziz and working with a new group of teammates and coaches while training out of the famed Jackson-Winkeljohn Academy in New Mexico.
Rather than jumping head first into whatever challenge was thrown at him next, Pico decided to trust in those closest to him to decide what was best for his career and the results have never been better. He’s now riding a three-fight winning streak — all finished by knockout or submission — and he’ll look for a fourth consecutive victory this weekend at Bellator 260.
While losing is never easy, Pico can now look back at those defeats in perspective to realize he needed to go through that to get where he’s at now.
“It’s nobody’s fault except mine,” Pico told MMA Fighting. “Early on, I signed on the dotted line. I was over 18, I knew what I was getting into. It is what it is. I’m happy where I’m at now. If those things wouldn’t have happened, I wouldn’t be with Ali, I wouldn’t be with Greg Jackson, “Six Gun” [Brandon Gibson] … I wouldn’t be with those guys.
“I’m not mad at what happened to be honest with you. I don’t even think about those three losses. I’ve said it before, I can beat all those guys in one night. If they gave me those three guys to fight in one night, I’d beat all of them. They know it, too. They know it. They really do.”
As much as Pico knows he could go back and beat all three opponents who have bested him in the past, he also understands how much those losses have served a purpose for him moving forward.
“I don’t feel that I’d be the fighter that I am today if that wouldn’t have happened,” Pico said. “If I would be 10-0 with 10 knockouts, I wouldn’t have had to dig down deep and really, really understand the positions of fighting. I’ve really gotten good everywhere and it’s fighting in the clinch, on the ground, off my back, if a guy’s on my leg against the cage, if I’m on his leg against the cage, elbows, clinch fighting, rhythm changes, I wouldn’t have had to really adapt and really figure it out.
“Now I’ve really, really had to study it and understand that I’m not invincible. A punch. A knee. I’ve been floored before so my eyes are open, my hands are up, my ears are open and I’m all about learning.”
These days when Pico has a fight offer on the table from Bellator, he’s listening to his manager and his coaches and taking their advice rather than just saying yes without question.
A perfect example came just recently when Pico contracted COVID-19 and he had a fight scheduled at Bellator 257 in April. As much as he wanted to push through the illness, Pico opted to listen to his manager’s advice when it came time to make a decision about whether or not he should compete.
“My manager Ali [Abdelaziz] said ‘you should probably just sit out, make sure that you’re well rested and make sure everything’s good, there’s no need to rush anything.’ That’s why I have my manager, that’s why I have my coaches,” Pico said. “I really trust my team. I can honestly say Ali is one of the best managers in the world, really cares about his fighters and I have nothing but good things to say about him.
“I’m glad I listened to them. Everything is perfect, I feel fine, I’m in great shape. You have to trust your team. You’ve got to be willing to do that. That’s why they’re around you, to help you make the best decisions. I’m fortunate enough that I really, really trust them with everything. We make some good decisions.”
Now as he makes his return to action on Friday, there’s a strategy in place to put the 24-year-old featherweight where he ultimately wants to be and that’s on top of the sport as one of the best fighters in the world.
The results are showing in his performances but more importantly Pico is really starting to believe in himself.
“Now I’m at the point where I have a lot of confidence in myself,” Pico said. “I really, truly believe I’m one of the best fighters in the world and I can truly say that. Before, it was a little bit weird for me to say that because I just didn’t know stuff about MMA. I was so green.
“Now I’ve been in the game for a few years now and I truly believe that we’re going to be one of the best fighters that ever walked this planet. I truly believe that. It may take some time but we’re going to get there, that’s for sure.”
Pico can’t guarantee that he’ll never lose again but he’s finally in a place where he just doesn’t see that as an option as long as he keeps following the formula put in place by his manager and his coaches.
Add to that, he’s already seen the highest of highs and the lowest of lows through only 10 fights in his career and when it comes to winning and losing, Pico definitely knows which one he prefers.
“I don’t take winning for granted. That’s for damn sure,” Pico said. “I know what it’s like to lose in this game and that’s why never hear me complain about going to practice or having to do this or having to do that. Because I know there’s a quote — you think training’s hard, try losing. That is so the truth. You think training’s hard, try losing.
“I know what that feeling’s like and I’m just going to say it blunt — it’s a f*cked up feeling.”