INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Looking at Aaron Pico’s Bellator 192 featherweight fight (all 37 seconds of it), it was clear that the super prospect was on the hunt for a body shot.
As we know, he found it – and it wasn’t just once. Right away, Pico (2-1 MMA, 2-1 BMMA) dropped Shane Kruchten (12-4 MMA, 0-1 BMMA) after hitting his midsection. Kruchten was tough enough to get up, but it wasn’t long before a nasty left hook kept him down.
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Strategy? Sure. But, for Pico, it was more like a prediction.
“I knew I was going to knock him out with a body shot,” Pico said after the main-card bout, which aired on Paramount from The Forum in Inglewood, Calif. “I didn’t really say it; I just knew. He was long, lanky. I just knew if I got to the inside – I’ve seen a couple of tapes on him. He’s taken some kicks to the body, which he didn’t really like.
“So I knew. If I got to the inside on him, and I let it rip, he would just go down. There would be no way he would be able to stand. I showed it tonight.”
That, he did. Now two gnarly first-round knockouts removed from a disappointing loss to Zach Freeman in his pro debut, Pico has further confirmed the high expectations that have surrounded his transition to MMA following a lauded amateur-wrestling career.
The excitement, however, doesn’t mean it’s all praise. Despite the undeniable results it’s recently got him, Pico’s aggression has also been subject of some criticism – specifically, his openness when engaging early, which has left him open for counters.
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Pico is aware that he needs to work on his defense, which is why he does just that with coach Antonio McKee every day. But at the same time, he’s a fighter, and the occupational hazards that come with it are something he’s aware and accepting of.
“Like I said, I’ll take one to (give) five,” Pico said. “That’s just kind of who I am. This is a fighting sport. You’re going to take punches. If I take eight years off my life because I took some punches in the cage, I’m OK with that. As long as my family is good and I had a good career, I’m fine with it.”
In any case, Pico knows there’s a process to these things. And at 21, he’s off to a solid start. He’s winning fights. He’s making good money. Even his high-profile loss at Madison Square Garden, he said, ended up being a blessing: Without it, he wouldn’t have joined The Bodyshop team to which he credits so much of his success in MMA.
Now, after a golden ending to an injury-free camp, Pico is optimistic about both his present and future.
“Everything just felt right,” Pico said. “I was nervous, of course. I’m always nervous. But I just knew this was just – it’s just my time. I feel good at featherweight, and 145 is the perfect weight for me. I feel strong, fast, and like I said, I just need time.
“Time is my friend right now, so each time I keep fighting is going to get better an better. I’m having a good time.”
Featherweight is clearly a good place for Pico, but it’s one that comes with a caveat: Training partner and childhood friend A.J. McKee, who also happens to be the son of coach Antonio, is also there. And logically, both fighters have title aspirations.
But while Pico’s taking a wait-and-see approach to his future, which he relies on his team to help map out, there’s one compromise he’s categorically not willing to make.
“A.J. and I won’t fight; that’s just a given,” Pico said. “A.J. McKee and I have been friends since we were little kids. He used to be at my house all the time, spending the night over for barbecues on family trips with us. No, that’s just weird. There’s many people in the world to beat up, rather than us fighting. That’s just not going to happen.”
For more on Bellator 192, check out the MMA Events section of the site.