Bellator 165: "Chandler vs. Henderson" comes to SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., this weekend (Sat., Nov. 19, 2016), with Lightweight champion "Iron" Michael Chandler facing former World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) and Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) champion "Smooth" Benson Henderson in Spike TV's main event of the evening.
However, that's not the only Lightweight fight coming to the "Shark Tank" on Saturday night. Undefeated Adam Piccolotti (8-0) will put his streak and his title aspirations on the line against "Cold Roll" Brandon Girtz (14-4), winner of three straight. Girtz represents the toughest test of Piccolotti's career to date. Only one of his Bellator fights has gone to the third round or a decision, and in his last appearance at Bellator 154 he dispatched Ray Wood with a rear-naked choke in round one. Indeed, "Cold Roll" has gotten hot in Bellator starting with his technical knockout of Benny Madrid, defeating "Young Assassin" Melvin Guillard at Bellator 141 and then scoring a lightning-fast, 37-second knockout at Bellator 146.
Piccolotti recently spoke with MMAmania.com about how he got to the point he is today -- undefeated and once again fighting on the main card of a Spike TV show. And he admits that nothing came easy for him.
"Well it's been a long road to say the least. I grew up with an older brother, I grew up wrestling -- very competitive. I've always loved competing in sports, whatever it may be. Even if we're playing tether ball I want to win, I want to be the best, that's what drives me. That's what lead me into the sport."
Clearly, the Cabrillo Unified School District has some top-shelf wrestling -- or just tussling with his older brother toughened him up a lot -- but Piccolotti didn't find it hard to make the jump to MMA.
"I remember in my wrestling career that's all I was focused on, I didn't care about anything else, but I would watch the UFC here and there. I would see guys like Matt Hughes just dominate people with their wrestling, and I was really interested in that more, and the self-defense aspect I guess -- more in a, 'Just in case something goes down, that's what I'm doing to people.' That slowly led me into everything else. What really made me fall in love with mixed martial arts was jiu-jitsu, and watching how jiu-jitsu worked in the sport."
Unsurprisingly, as a Hughes fan he remembers one of the pivotal UFC pay-per-view (PPV) events where he fought Royce Gracie.
"I think I was in high school and I was just starting jiu-jitsu at the time so -- I was kind of bummed, but I didn't quite understand where both men were at the time. Royce may have been a little past his prime at that moment. Matt Hughes was a little stronger at that moment. For me that was a win-win you know, whether it be wrestling or jiu-jitsu that won, I'm all in. It was definitely that sort of style battle that was very fun in the early days."
Hughes made it look easy that night in 2006 with a first round technical knockout, but Piccolotti has been making it look easy of late with three straight submissions. To hear Piccolotti tell it, though, tapping an opponent isn't always the plan.
"I've done the same mental strategy in all my fights. I try to put the guy on the ground and I try to hurt him -- I'm gonna go for that TKO. In Bellator, it just so happens my past three opponents have not wanted to take those strikes and given me the opportunity to finish by submission. I consider myself an aggressive kind of fighter. When I'm putting my aggression on him, if he stays I'm gonna finish him right there, but if he moves I'm gonna grab that submission."
His last fight took a more personal and somber tone given his original opponent, Jordan Parsons, was killed in a hit-and-run accident. Piccolotti ended up fighting Ray Wood as a late notice replacement.
"It was a really dark place, it was a really hard time. I felt so much for this kid. Although I never got the chance to interact with him I felt connected to him. To have his life taken by not even a car accident, by a murderer, it was ... it was definitely heavy. As a competitor, as a fighter, I had to find the mental focus to continue to fight, to take on a last minute opponent, and to do what I thought that he would have done in my situation."
Piccolotti overcame his emotions to win, and now he's ready to bring that focus to bear again for Girtz. He knows how dangerous "Cold Roll" can be in the Bellator cage, but isn't impressed by his wrestling pedigree.
"I'm one of the believers that you don't have to have the highest wrestling background to be a good wrestler in mixed martial arts. I look at somebody like GSP and it just goes to show that's true. My wrestling has evolved immensely since my high school background. I wouldn't consider myself the most accomplished wrestler, but I do have a strong strong wrestling game especially in this sport. He's going to be more explosive and I'll look to exploit that."
Whatever Girtz brings to the cage, Piccolotti will bring the confidence of an unblemished record along with aspirations of title contention.
"A lot of these guys in the top five have been beating each other. Being undefeated -- I've got to perform well and take out Brandon Girtz and I don't see myself as being far (from a shot) at all. I see my skill level and everything being right there with any of these guys."
No matter how serious it gets in the cage, though, Piccolotti maintains a care-free attitude outside.
"I'm just a local coast side boy here. I skateboard, I like to hang out, I hang with my girlfriend, I walk my pit bull you know, I just love the lifestyle that mixed martial arts brings. I love the sport, I love to compete, and I'm very happy with the position that I'm in."
Complete audio of the interview is embedded in the video player above and complete Bellator MMA coverage can be found right here on fight night.