Since suffering three losses in his first seven fights, including two in a row, Albuquerque MMA fighter Aaron Pico has spectacularly righted the ship – ripping off four consecutive victories.
If there was any doubt he’d eventually validate the confidence the MMA promotional giant Bellator placed in him four years ago, signing him at age 20 with no experience in the sport, that doubt has been erased.
Nonetheless, Pico hasn’t forgotten the losses. And he knows how damaging a loss could be on Friday in his scheduled fight against unbeaten Justin Gonzales on a Bellator card in Hollywood, Florida.
“I feel this is a huge fight for me and for the team (at Albuquerque’s Jackson-Wink MMA),” said Pico (8-3), ranked sixth among Bellator’s featherweights. Gonzales (12-0) is No. 8.
“Every fight seems to get bigger and bigger, but this is probably the biggest fight of my career so far.”
That said, Pico’s preparation hasn’t varied significantly from that which produced those four consecutive wins. A loss in any of those four could have dropped in him in the rankings or knocked him out of them.
By treating every fight as if it were for the Bellator title, he’s moving closer to fighting for the featherweight belt currently held by Aaron McKie.
Pico was an international wrestling sensation as a Southern California teenager and narrowly missed a berth in the 2016 Olympics at age 19. As such, he’s been a marked man ever since Bellator signed him.
He knows Gonzales will be looking to burnish his own reputation at Pico’s expense on Friday, just as past opponents did.
“Especially with the name I have and with the hype that’s been around my name, I feel the pressure’s always on me,” Pico said. “So I treat every fight the same.”
If there’s a difference now, he said, it’s just the natural progress that flows from his training at Jackson-Wink.
“I think the biggest thing for me is (that) this is gonna be my 12th fight. … I’m starting to get in the swing of things, starting to understand the fight game as best I can.
“I have a lot to learn, obviously, but training camp is just going smooth for me. I try really hard to listen to my coaches, listen to my body and just live the right lifestyle. Like (coach Greg Jackson) says, not too high, not too low. I’m right in the middle.”
Staying on that level plane was a challenge after back-to-back losses to Henry Corrales and Adam Borics over a six-month period in 2019.
“Maybe the hype was too much for him because he was crazy hyped,” Borics said after his victory over Pico by second-round TKO in June 2019. “Maybe he was too young for the pressure.”
Often, when fighters struggle, they’ll switch coaches and/or move their training base. Pico did the opposite, tightening his relationship with Jackson-Wink and buying a home in Albuquerque. He and his wife, Kylie, have a 4-month-old son (Valentino).
Since the Borics fight, he’s reeled off victories over Daniel Carey, Solo Hatley Jr., John De Jesus and Aiden Lee, all by early TKO or submission.
Gonzales, who fights out of Greeley, Colorado, will be fighting on a Bellator card for just the second time after debuting with a split-decision victory over Ty-Wan Clayton in June. He defeated Zach Zane on Dana White’s Tuesday Contender Series in 2019 but was not offered a UFC contract.
“I respect him a lot, I really do,” Pico said. “I think he’s 12-0 for a reason, (also) undefeated as an amateur. Best believe I’m not taking him for granted.
“But I’m bringing the violence, for sure.”
BLENCOWE TOO: Australian featherweight Arlene Blencowe (14-8), Pico’s Jackson-Wink teammate, is matched against Pam Sorenson (9-3) on Friday’s card.