Few fighters in my memory, and my fandom, had nearly as much hype around them before their professional mixed martial arts debut as Aaron Pico.
“Pico – a United States National Champion in Folkstyle, Freestyle, and Greco-Roman wrestling and a gold medalist at the World Cadet Championships – was an extremely hot prospect Bellator was able to snatch up and build attention around leading right up to their very first event at Madison Square Garden in June of 2017, where he would make his professional debut.”
His opponent, Zach Freeman, was supposed to be a can of corn. Everyone knew it, but everyone was also sorta okay with it being this was the kid’s debut, and it was under the bright lights. Freeman was a full-time furniture salesman who worked over forty hours a week – every week – in the build to the fight, only training before and after work. So being the working class citizen I am, I sorta said, “I hope Rocky pulls off the upset here!” in a playful manner…I had nothing against Pico, or Bellator, but I just basically knew Pico’s time would eventually come, so his debut wouldn’t matter too much, and thought it’d be a crazy upset to see (-1000/+600 when lines closed to be exact).
That upset SHOCKINGLY wound up following through, and Freeman choked Pico out in just twenty-four seconds.
That upset was also barely even a bump in the road for the youngster’s career. Since that fateful night at Madison Square Garden, Pico’s hunger, drive, and determination has only gotten stronger, and his hands have only gotten heavier. He’s now 4-1, sporting four first-round knockouts, the most recent over a very serious talent and former title challenger in Leandro Higo.
Anyone with Pico’s wrestling base would be set on the right path to a fantastic mixed martial arts career in the modern era, but not everyone with Pico’s wrestling base hit as hard and as precisely as he does. I think it’s time to stop labeling him a “prospect”, and rather labeling him a “contender”, because right now, I don’t know if there’s a featherweight in the company I wouldn’t favor Aaron Pico over. At this point in his career, he’s defeated higher-level combatants than most all-time greats did when they were at his level, so that should speak for itself.
Just an absolute monster. Much respect.