One of the best wrestlers to ever burst on to the mixed martial arts scene, Aaron Pico had a rough outing in his Bellator MMA debut. After a quick first round submission loss to Zach Freeman, Pico has secured back-to-back first round knockout finishes. MyMMANews.com reporter Tony Reid caught up with Pico to discuss his career thus far.
Tony Reid – Coming in as highly touted as any prospect in MMA history, you had a tough debut at Bellator NYC. What lasting memories or thoughts do you have of that night?
Aaron Pico – “The biggest thing in the cage was that I rushed in. I rushed in and got hit. I ran right into that choke. I should have taken my time and done things a little bit different. It is what it is but for the most part everything leading up to the fight was great. I finally got that experience the night before the fight, the weeks leading up to the fight and also everything that comes with big events like that. I’m getting experience, which I need so it’s good for me.”
TR – We all know the extensive wrestling credentials, the golden gloves boxing background, the time in pankration and so on. If someone just tuned in to your Bellator MMA debut and saw the performance what other moment from your combat sports career would you have replaced that with and have them see?
AP – “I won the (freestyle wrestling) world championships in 2015. It was a hard fought match back and forth with a guy from Japan. I got a takedown with a little bit of time left to win the world championship. That was one of my biggest accomplishments to this point.”
TR – You were mixing marital arts since your infancy. What was the mindset at such a young age to move in that direction early on?
AP – “The biggest thing to me was that my older brother wrestled. I went along with him to wrestling practice. I really enjoyed it. I didn’t really like learning moves as a kid, as most kids don’t when they first start wrestling. My favorite part of wrestling was going live. Wrestling live was always so much fun to me. Then competing as a kid was also so much fun for me. When I got into MMA, at the time, I was wrestling at an MMA gym. They had a cage and the word was that after wrestling practice you would be able to go fight MMA in the cage. I never did as a kid. My boxing was terrible. I would just try to take guys down. I was trying to box and I was swinging wild and stuff. I remember getting in the car and said ‘Man, I don’t know how to box.’ My dad was in the car and he said ‘OK, then let’s start boxing.’ So, I learned how to box. Then I started boxing. One thing led to another. I started doing pankration. Then I did some Jiu Jitsu tournaments. There has always been some sort of combat discipline in my life since I was a kid.”
TR – Speaking of you time in the gym, you train with the world class team at American Kickboxing Academy on occasion. What is it like as a young man to be able to train with such elite and accomplished fighters such as Daniel Cormier, Cain Velasquez and company?
AP – “I am up there occasionally but my training is really done down here in Southern California at The Body Shop with Antonio McKee. My boxing coach is Freddie Roach. My strength and conditioning is done down here in Southern California, too. Everything is down here. Bob Cook comes down here with me as much as he can be. A lot of people think I train out of AKA but I don’t.”
TR – I recently spoke to another young rising star from The Body Shop, AJ McKee, and he said that you guys along with Baby Slice are forming the next Bellator takeover. What can you tell us about the takeover?
AP – “Absolutely. That is the whole goal in mind is to be the best in the world. If everybody has that goal in mind than we can all be world champions. That is not an easy task. We all have a lot of work to do. AJ, Joey, Slice and myself are all winning and doing what we need to do so we are on the right track. Having Antonio McKee as the head trainer and lead guy is awesome. I have known Antonio and AJ since I was a kid. Antonio has so much knowledge in MMA. He has been in the game since he was a teenager. He has grown and he has adapted. His ability to teach is great.”
TR – How has Freddie Roach’s wisdom influenced your game and enhanced your growth?
AP – “He has been a huge part of my development. Obviously boxing is just one discipline but there is a lot that goes into the boxing aspect of the game. The ability to be able to throw a punch is huge. There is so much that goes into boxing as far as strategy. You have to learn how to corral guys and put them back against the ropes. Once you have a guy against the ropes how and when do you throw a punch? That is basic but that’s all about ring generalship. Its ben very important to learn that. I have been learning how to box. Some people think you just go in there and throw punches but there is so much more than that. I didn’t know. I was just a tough guy who would go in there and spar and do great but Freddie has really broken it down for me. He taught me how to relax. He has taught me about picking my punches, what punches to throw. He has taught me what to do when you have a guy against the ropes. There is so much that goes into it and I am still learning. He has taught me a lot and I am very fortunate that he has taken me under his wing.”
TR – You have been heavily hyped since day one. You have been called the next big thing and many other superlatives. What are your thoughts when you hear those things?
AP – “It’s a great position to be in. I definitely take it as a compliment but with that being said, it is a big responsibility. It is expensive. By expensive, I mean that it requires a lot of work. I can honestly say that I listen to those things, I am thankful but at the end of the day I am constantly working. I am trying to be the best I can possibly be. I want to be a world champion and I will be a world champion. I am young. I need experience. A lot of people would like to be in this position as I am in. I requires a lot of work and a lot of hours. I enjoy it. Some people may call it sacrifice but it’s not a sacrifice. If you sacrifice it’s like you don’t want to do it. I don’t sacrifice anything. I want to do it. That’s my whole approach. I do it because I want to do it. I don’t sacrifice anything.”