LOS ANGELES – Bellator featherweight Aaron Pico has lived his fighting career under the microscope from the moment he was hailed as one of the best prospects in the sport. And, after suffering back-to-back knockout losses this year, the 23-year-old says he’s taken a step back to take a step forward.
Pico (4-3 MMA, 4-3 BMMA) bounced back from a submission loss in his debut to reel off four first-round knockouts in a row as the hype started to build around him. But a first-round knockout loss to Henry Corrales, then a second-round finish at the hands of Adam Borics saw the Pico hype train hit the buffers in 2019.
And after he was omitted from the Bellator featherweight grand prix lineup, Pico has stepped back from the cage and instead put himself to work at his new MMA home of Jackson Wink MMA in Albuquerque, N.M., where he says he’s benefited from the time away from active competition.
“Obviously, after a fight you lose, you want to go right back in,” Pico told reporters, including MMA Junkie, on Tuesday at Dominance MMA media day. “But I think it was best for me to take some time off and really develop (and) let my body heal.
“I think it was the best for me, just so I can spend weeks with Greg and the other coaches there and really, really learn, rather than just jumping straight into fight camp. Because sometimes fight camp is different than actually out of fight camp.
“Out of camp you get to learn and try different things in training, so the time away from the cage was good for me, but now we should be looking for a fight soon and get back in the cage. I need it.”
Pico admitted he had mixed emotions after his name wasn’t included in the 16-man featherweight grand prix but, despite his competitive urges, he said being left out of the lineup was probably the best thing for his career development.
“Sometimes I’m like, ‘There’s a lot of guys that I feel like I can beat,’ but right now I’m enjoying my time not being in the tournament,” Pico said. “I don’t really have to worry about that stress or have to worry about anything other than just taking one fight at a time. So in a way, it kind of makes sense that I’m not in the tournament. Sometimes I go back and forth. Sometimes I wish I was, and then sometimes I’m like, ‘You know what? It’s a good thing I’m not.’ But I think overall it’s best that I’m sitting out the tournament, for sure.”
Instead of mixing it up with Bellator’s best 145 pounders in the tournament, Pico instead has been sharpening his skills at Jackson Wink, where he says he is benefiting hugely from the input received from coaches Greg Jackson, Mike Winkeljohn and Brandon Gibson.
“I feel really good being out in Albuquerque. I really, really enjoy it,” Pico said. “I love Greg Jackson, ‘Six-Gun’, Coach Wink, they’ve done a really good job of breaking things down for me.
“I’m really young in the game. I’ve got skills, but I need to slow it down a little bit and really learn a lot. I’m very fortunate (Greg) spends a lot of time with me, as do all of the coaches, so I feel really good being in Albuquerque, for sure.”
And after spending most of the summer in New Mexico improving his game, Pico says he’s ready to get one more fight in the books before the end of 2019 as he looks to head into the New Year with some momentum.
“It should be the end of November, beginning of December,” he said of his return. “We should know soon. So we’re just waiting on Bellator. I’m ready, and we’ll be back soon.”
When asked for his prediction for the featherweight grand prix, Pico had no doubt as he picked another of Bellator’s rising stars to claim the crown.
“A.J. McKee,” he said, without hesitation. “I feel he’ll win the tournament, hands down.”
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