Bellator 183: “Henderson vs. Pitbull” heads to SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., this Saturday night (Sept. 23, 2017), featuring a Spike TV-televised main event between Lightweight veteran “Smooth” Benson Henderson (24-7) against hard-hitting knockout artist Patricky “Pitbull” Freire (17-8) in a fight sure to thrill the “Shark Tank” fans.
Aaron Pico was already in a thrilling fight in his Bellator debut, but things didn’t work out the way he had expected. Dubbed “MMA’s greatest prospect” when he first signed with Bellator in 2014, fans waited two long years to see him debut at Madison Square Garden in New York City. And 24 seconds later, he tapped to a guillotine choke.
In a recent interview with MMAmania.com, Pico said the pressure of a long-anticipated pro debut didn’t affect him in NYC; on the contrary, it was just a random set of circumstances that could happen to anyone.
“To be honest with you I felt good going into Madison Square Garden. Training camp went well, everything was good. Were there nerves involved? Absolutely! Anybody’s always nervous when they step into the cage, but I felt good, I felt confident. I did everything right, but it didn’t go as planned. He got me with that right hand and then ended up choking me out, but it is what it is — it’s all good.”
If there’s any meaning to the cliche “you learn more from a loss than a win” then Pico has a unique opportunity to show us what he’s learned this weekend in a Featherweight fight, facing yet another 10-fight veteran in Justin “The Mortal Sinn” Linn (7-3).
“Now, just knowing the whole protocol going into it the night before, the hours leading up to the fight, now I have a deeper understanding of what goes on. Wrestling I always knew what went on, and doing some Pankration stuff is a lot different than being on pay-per-view. Now that I know the protocol and how everything works I feel a lot more comfortable. I feel really happy for the next one now that I know what to expect.”
“Comfortable” is an ideal word to use in this situation getting that Pico gets to fight at home in California instead of traveling to the East, plus he already knows his way around SAP Center well.
“I feel good actually going to San Jose. I’ve been to the fights many a times there. I’ve been in the back, I know where things are at, I know where everything’s at, I know what the hotel is like, everything. I’ve been there before so it’s always good to be back.”
He can’t get too comfortable, though. Even though it’s an ideal place and time for a fight, Linn is dangerous and capable with two knockouts and four submissions in his seven wins.
“Yeah, he’s definitely got that kind of experience, but we went over it with my coaches, Bob Cook and Antonio McKee. I said I felt comfortable and they felt comfortable as well so, we’ve been coming with a gameplan, strategizing what is best for us in the fight. I have a lot trust behind my team, so they’re for it and I’m for it. At the end of the day you’ve just got to get in there and do what you do. Anything can happen in the fight but I’m confident in my abilities.”
Part of Pico’s confidence also comes from being able to devote himself to training full time after recovering from a career setback before MSG because of an injury.
“I’m getting more and more time in training MMA. I had ACL surgery like a year and a half ago so, now I’m getting more months under my belt, more partners, different looks so, it’s good. I feel a lot more comfortable this time going in.”
Pico can also draw confidence from the success of his team at the Body Shop, from undefeated phenom “Mercenary” A.J. McKee to what he can learn from both McKees there.
“I love being in there with those guys, especially A.J., and Joey Davis, and Antonio McKee as well. Him as a partner is crazy! His ability and his knowledge in the game to be able to blend the styles together is just awesome. I’ve known Antonio since I was six years old. He’s seen me wrestle, he’s seen me box, he knows me as a person. He knows what my tendencies are, my weaknesses, everything. Him as a coach putting it altogether with A.J. and Joey, it’s been good for me.”
Even if things go more smoothly for Pico in this fight and going forward, he’s not planning on revisiting his Olympic dreams again. He’s fully committed to MMA from this point on.
“Being immersed in the MMA thing, there’s so much to learn and it’s like, I’m still wrestling and doing practices, but I have so much to learn in this MMA game. I’m still a puppy in my opinion as far as learning this game. I’ve got to get experience, see more partners, and blend my style all together. I have so much to learn so that’s what my main focus is right now, MMA, (and) becoming the best fighter on the planet. That’s what the whole goal is.”
There’s an eerie similarity to Pico’s last fight given both Freeman and Linn have garnered more of their wins by submission, but Pico is completely unconcerned about the parallels between fights.
“I haven’t even really paid attention to that to be honest. I just know that in this fight game, you’re going to have to go against guys that get submissions and knockouts, that’s just part of the game. A lot of people always say like ‘What are you doing? You kinda ... sometimes you bite off more than you can chew,’ but that’s just the type of person I am. I really love challenges. I believe that’s what life is all about.”
On Friday night, it’s time for “the pup” to be a big dog against Justin Linn. And if he hasn’t bitten off more than he can chew, he might get to enjoy a “Pitbull” fight afterward, too.
Complete audio of our interview is embedded above, and complete coverage of “Henderson vs. Pitbull” resides here at MMAmania.com all week long.
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