Before ever stepping into the cage for his first fight, Aaron Pico was labeled as one of the best prospects to ever pursue a career in mixed martial arts.
Now it’s hard to argue against that logic when examining Pico’s pedigree.
He grew up on the mats with a wrestling background that includes wins over some of the top athletes in the sport without ever competing in college. Pico racked up medals at the Junior World Championships and was one point away from joining the 2016 Olympic wrestling team. In addition to that, Pico also worked tirelessly on his boxing game while competing in Golden Gloves events and even dabbled in Pankration as yet another skill set to add onto his resume.
Oh by the way, he did all of this before he was 20 years old.
As if he was being assembled in some kind video game to build the perfect fighter, it’s easy to understand why Pico has such a bright spotlight on him.
More importantly when it comes to his potential opponents, Pico has lived up to expectation thus far in his young career and that makes him a very frightening fighter to have standing across the cage from you.
“I know it is a scary combination. If I had to fight me, I’d be scared, too,” Pico told MMAWeekly ahead of his next fight at Bellator 214. “It’s a good combination to have. As a kid, I put a lot of time into wrestling, I put a lot of time into boxing and had to grow up and you pick a profession like this, you’re so glad you put the time in.
“I always loved what I did and I was always so excited to put the time in and work with the trainers and wrestling all over the world. Now it’s paying off.”
Pico is now 4-1 in his MMA career with four straight wins — all by first round knockout — while quickly climbing up the ranks of the Bellator featherweight division.
This weekend, Pico faces former title challenger Henry Corrales and with a win it’s entirely possible that he could be competing for the featherweight championship before the end of 2019.
That might sound unrealistic for a fighter just about to compete for the sixth time professionally but nothing about Pico’s success has been conventional.
“That’s just how I’ve always been,” Pico said about overachieving so early in his career. “For some people that doesn’t work. Some people just aren’t mentally strong. The way that I do things doesn’t work for a lot of other people. The way I live my life is to be the best in the world. The first fight it didn’t work out for me but I learned from it and I got better.
“It works for me, it may not work for everybody else. The type of person I am, taking on those challenges, taking on those risks, works for me.”
On paper, Pico defeating Corrales this weekend could make him the biggest threat to featherweight champion Patricio ‘Pitbull’ Freire but that won’t change his attitude when it comes to how he approaches his career.
Pico not only appreciates the prospect label that’s been bestowed upon him but he fully embraces it.
“For people to label me as a contender that’s great. It just puts me one step closer to fighting for a title but I like keeping prospect in my mind,” Pico explained. “The reason is prospects are trying to prove themselves. They’re trying to put on exciting fights so people want to see them. That’s what I want to do every single fight. I want to wake up with that prospect mentality. That’s what keeps me really sharp.
“Even when I become champ, I still want to keep that prospect mentality. Because young fighters, they fight with a different type of energy. You get older, you get wiser but right now I like having that fire. I like having that prospect mentality. I like to always keep that prospect in my mind.”
That kind of drive has taken Pico far already but he plans on carrying it even further by eventually becoming the Bellator featherweight champion.
As much as he wants that, Pico didn’t get to this stage of the game just to look past a dangerous fighter like Corrales, especially knowing what could be on the line for both of them on Saturday night.
“The only way I can put it he’s tough. That’s what I tell everybody — he’s really tough,” Pico said about Corrales. “He’s going to come to fight. He’s going to come to put on a show and that’s exactly the kind of competition I want to fight. He’s on a four-fight win streak, just like me, so we’re definitely in title contention.
“The winner of this fight could fight for the title. I really believe that. It’s a big fight for me. It’s a big fight for him as well but we are ready to go.”