Super Prospect Aaron Pico on Bellator Debut and Working with Freddie Roach

0-0.
In certain contexts, it’s a pretty auspicious pro MMA record. One of those contexts occurs when you see the 0-0 on a pay-per-view card. There aren’t many modern fighters this side of CM Punk who make their professional debuts on a stage people she…

0-0.

In certain contexts, it’s a pretty auspicious pro MMA record. One of those contexts occurs when you see the 0-0 on a pay-per-view card. There aren’t many modern fighters this side of CM Punk who make their professional debuts on a stage people shelled out $60 to see.

To get away with that, you’ll need someone who stands out from the crowd based on non-MMA activities.

How does the greatest MMA prospect of all time fit the bill?

Fight fans will vote with their wallets June 24, when 20-year-old Aaron Pico enters the pro MMA cage for the first time—and in no less a venue than New York City’s venerable Madison Square Garden. He’ll do so against a relatively unheralded lightweight in Zach Freeman (8-2).

“It feels good,” Pico told Bleacher Report in an exclusive interview. “This is where I’ve always envisioned myself. It’s not the last time I’ll fight in front of the fans at MSG.”

He’s not lacking for confidence. And that’s good, because plenty of other, more established Bellator stars didn’t make it onto this card, only the second pay-per-view event in Bellator history and its first in New York. Bellator: NYC will follow the cable-televised Bellator 180.

Does Pico feel strange about receiving this opportunity? No. And with his long history on the international wrestling circuit—he chose to forgo college for global competition, then last year fell just short of making the U.S. Olympic freestyle wrestling team as a teenager—he’s received a taste of pressure before.

“I think it’s great,” he said. “This is what I wanted to do. I’ve always done it at the highest levels. We’re going to be champions of the world. I’ve proven myself time and time again. In wrestling, I was young and taking on men. I know what I’m capable of doing.”

Although his training home base remains American Kickboxing Academy in Fresno, California, alongside stars like Daniel Cormier and Luke Rockhold, he’s branching out to other high-profile camps. He is now training with Eddie Bravo at 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu. Boxing work takes place under the gifted eye of Freddie Roach and the staff at Wild Card Boxing, famous home to Manny Pacquiao and a slew of others.

“He’s always helping me,” Pico said of Roach. “We’ve really been welcomed there. When you step into Wild Card, it’s just a feeling you get that everyone’s there to just work and push each other to do good. I see my hand speed coming. … It’s upped my level, for sure.”

On paper, Freeman would appear to be a weak opponent for Pico’s debut. That may be by design, as Bellator officials probably aren’t very interested in watching one of the sport’s top prospects drop his first contest.

But Pico, perhaps not surprisingly, doesn’t see it that way. Yes, he has called out bigger names before, but he’s been waiting a long time to make his MMA debut, having trained in combat sports for years and recently moving past a serious knee injury. Speaking with a measured voice, Pico genuinely doesn’t seem to be thinking about much of anything else beyond Freeman in Madison Square Garden.

“Freeman is a tough opponent,” Pico said. “But I want to take on the challenge. I’m not training to fight lower-level fighters.”

 

Scott Harris writes about MMA for Bleacher Report. For more, follow Scott on Twitter.

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UFC Fight Night 108 Results: Matches to Make for the Winners and Losers

UFC Fight Night 108 in Nashville provided quite a bit of action and quite a few interesting results.
Artem Lobov proved many doubters wrong by hanging with one of the featherweight elite for 25 minutes. It was a losing effort, but Lobov’s stock undoubt…

UFC Fight Night 108 in Nashville provided quite a bit of action and quite a few interesting results.

Artem Lobov proved many doubters wrong by hanging with one of the featherweight elite for 25 minutes. It was a losing effort, but Lobov’s stock undoubtedly rose after the performance.

What’s next for Conor McGregor’s training partner? What about Cub Swanson, who failed to put away an unranked fighter in a main event spot?

Al Iaquinta knocked Diego Sanchez out in the first round of their co-main event contest. Iaquinta’s return from a two-year absence thrust him right back into the hunt at 155 pounds. Sanchez now has to come to grips with his inability to compete with the top lightweights in the world.

Twenty-six fighters in total hit the cage Saturday, but what’s next?

Here’s your look at the matches the UFC should book for the winners and losers after UFC Fight Night 108.

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UFC Fight Night 108: Bleacher Report Main Card Staff Predictions

UFC Fight Night 108 is getting loads of buzz for all the wrong reasons. 
Simply going down the list of names on this card is enough to pique the interest of hardcore MMA fans.
Exciting veterans Joe Lauzon, Diego Sanchez and Eddie Wineland are all …

UFC Fight Night 108 is getting loads of buzz for all the wrong reasons. 

Simply going down the list of names on this card is enough to pique the interest of hardcore MMA fans.

Exciting veterans Joe Lauzon, Diego Sanchez and Eddie Wineland are all set for potentially enthralling scraps, and a total of six former title contenders will punch cards and faces on Saturday night. It isn’t just old favorites, either, as intriguing up-and-comers like Brandon Moreno, Cindy Dandois and Stevie Ray will all get the chance to build their resumes.

So what’s the problem? Well, many are less than thrilled that the main event happens to be a contest between featherweight top-10 staple Cub Swanson and Conor McGregor’s buddy, Artem Lobov. While there is certainly a discussion to be had about a fighter with a 13-12-1 (1) record headlining a UFC event, this still shakes out to be solid card on the sheer volume of name-brand fighters.

But while much of the MMA world goes back and forth over bout order, the Bleacher Report MMA predictions team is here to discuss the contests and who is going to win them.

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The Complete Guide to UFC Fight Night 108: Swanson vs. Lobov

The UFC heads to Nashville, Tennessee, with a decent Fight Night offering on Fox Sports 1 this Saturday, April 22. In the main event, longtime featherweight contender Cub Swanson draws Conor McGregor’s friend and training partner Artem Lobov in a bizar…

The UFC heads to Nashville, Tennessee, with a decent Fight Night offering on Fox Sports 1 this Saturday, April 22. In the main event, longtime featherweight contender Cub Swanson draws Conor McGregor’s friend and training partner Artem Lobov in a bizarre but potentially entertaining main event.

That main event sums up a card mostly devoid of relevance to larger storylines or even to the title picture in any division, but it’s full of fun matchups. 

The co-main event features a lightweight scrap between Al Iaquinta and the legendary Diego Sanchez, a fight that promises fireworks. Action fighter Joe Lauzon draws Scotland’s Stevie Ray in a fun bout, while Jake Ellenberger and Mike Perry will likely fight until one man is unconscious in the main-card opener. 

The best fight on the card is a bantamweight matchup between John Dodson and Eddie Wineland, a fantastic meeting of two grizzled and talented veterans.

The prelims aren’t must-watch, but keep an eye on the flyweight bout between Brandon Moreno and Dustin Ortiz.

Let’s take a look at each matchup.

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The Best Fights the UFC Can Book for Rest of 2017

The UFC has already supplied great action in 2017, and the leader of mixed martial arts shows no signs of slowing down.
UFC 211 is a stacked card with two title fights with many other compelling fights booked beyond that. The UFC is looking at marquee …

The UFC has already supplied great action in 2017, and the leader of mixed martial arts shows no signs of slowing down.

UFC 211 is a stacked card with two title fights with many other compelling fights booked beyond that. The UFC is looking at marquee summer events, but there are still many slots available. And that just covers the first half of the year.

What comes after that May 13 event? What are the best fights available?

Sometimes the best fights are all about the storyline and not the in-cage action. Sometimes it’s all about the high-level technique put on display. There are plenty of both to go around in this crazy sport. Big names, big games.

Let’s take a look at 10 of the best fights the UFC can book in the remainder of 2017.

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UFC on Fox 24 Results: Matches to Make for the Winners and Losers

UFC on Fox 24 from Kansas City saw Demetrious Johnson do his thing.
That thing was styling all over another poor flyweight soul, Wilson Reis, and defending his title for a record-tying 10th time. It was another stellar performance from an all-time grea…

UFC on Fox 24 from Kansas City saw Demetrious Johnson do his thing.

That thing was styling all over another poor flyweight soul, Wilson Reis, and defending his title for a record-tying 10th time. It was another stellar performance from an all-time great.

In the co-main event Saturday, Rose Namajunas knocked down and choked out Michelle Waterson. Entering the event, most of the media buzz was surrounding Waterson, who had signed with WME-IMG agents. Namajunas put a swift end to that ride for the UFC’s owners.

Those were just the two highlights at the top of the card. As always we wonder what’s next for the winners and losers.

Well, let’s find out. Here’s a look at the matches to make for each participant on the UFC on Fox 24 fight card.

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