June 23, 2017

Bellator 180: Blue Chip Prospect Aaron Pico Ready To Ante Up In His Debut At Bellator NYC

By Raphael Garcia

Every so often the MMA world has the opportunity to welcome a prospect that comes with high expectations and hype. Bellator NYC is such a stage, as Aaron Pico makes his mixed martial arts debut. As MMA continues to embrace the “youth movement” with athletes seemingly being forged with all things MMA in mind, Pico’s debut has captured the attention of many across the sport.

At 20 years old, it seems like Pico was bred with the intention of creating a fighter well-versed in nearly every aspect of the game. He’s a multiple-time champion in wrestling, boxing, and pankration, with a wealth of experience beyond his age. As a teenager he nearly made the USA Olympic wrestling team, competing against men who’d placed and won NCAA national titles. Pico’s success didn’t end there, as his resume also includes championships at the national Golden Gloves level and a European Pankration championship. He signed a deal with Bellator in November 2014 before he’d even graduated high school. All of this before he can legally drink in the United States.

Organizations such as Nike and Dethrone Royalty have already attached their brands to Pico’s name under the impression that he’s going to be a special star in MMA. Bellator President Scott Coker recognized that potential and signed him before any other organization could join in on the bandwagon. As Coker said when the announcement was made during Bellator 131:

"Simply put, Aaron has all the makings of MMA’s next great superstar, and to have him here at Bellator MMA is something special. Like many of us in the MMA community, Aaron is someone we’ve been watching closely over the last few years, and after sitting down with Bob Cook and his team, getting a chance to meet Aaron, and hearing his long-term aspirations, the fit became very obvious."

In some ways, Pico’s debut in the sport stands in exact contrast to that of Dillon Danis. The New York-based jiu-jitsu standout Danis is another athlete who has experienced success in another sport and is making his MMA debut as a part of the Bellator roster. The difference, however, is that Danis is drumming up coverage through his posturing, while Pico is flying under the radar. Yet while Danis talked a lot about making his debut at Bellator NYC, Pico is actually doing it.

And Pico’s opponent at Bellator NYC, Zach Freeman, isn’t a pushover in any sense of the word. In fact, he’s the exact type of fighter that should be used to gauge how high Pico’s ceiling in MMA is. With an 8-2 record, Freeman is more experienced, and should push the prospect in key areas, but if Pico is ready for a strong push at this time, he should be able to get past the Missouri native.

Bellator has made it clear that the organization has a long view of developing prospects. Aaron Pico isn’t the first and will not be the last individual who is signed by the promotion without the experience that comes from competing on the regional level. Growing success through youth is a strategy that is seen throughout professional sports, and Pico’s debut at Bellator NYC will go a long way towards achieving it.

Bellator (180) NYC: Sonnen vs. Silva takes place June 24, 2017 at Madison Square Garden in New York, New York.

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