Aaron Pico entered his Bellator MMA debut as one of the promotion’s most hyped prospects in recent memory, but he left Madison Square Garden that night as just another fighter with an 0-1 record.
It was far from your average debut, however. Pico occupied a sport on the Bellator: NYC pay-per-view card, and he was paired with Zach Freeman, who entered the matchup with an 8-2 record and experience against viable competition on the regional circuit. The unheralded Freeman stunned Pico with a right uppercut and quickly ensnared his foe in a tight guillotine, forcing the tapout just 24 seconds into the opening stanza. Suddenly, the hype train came to a screeching halt.
Pico was packaged with a number of standout wrestlers as Bellator’s next generation of prospects. But while the likes of Ed Ruth, Tyrell Fortune, Jarrod Trice and Joey Davis have been brought along much more slowly against less experienced opposition, the 20-year-old American Kickboxing Academy product was thrown into the fire immediately.
Davis, who has known Pico since they were kids, felt for his sometime training partner as he watched the action unfold at Madison Square Garden that night.
“It takes a monster to come back from that…It messed me up a little bit. He’s a kid that works so hard. I’m just like that, I work so hard. And one punch can f—k up everything. I don’t think the guy is better than him. I think Aaron beats that dude 10 times, any time he wants to,” Davis told Sherdog.com. “The dude got one punch, he dropped and he jumped on the choke.”
Pico, a 2016 Olympic hopeful wrestler and a Golden Gloves boxer, was called perhaps the greatest prospect in MMA history by AKA’s Bob Cook, no faint praise from someone who has been around the likes of Cain Velasquez, Daniel Cormier and Luke Rockhold. Davis, who will make his sophomore promotional appearance at Bellator 182 at Turning Stone Casino in Verona, N.Y., on Friday night, believes Pico is still on that track.
“That motherf—-er is a world class athlete. He’s going to be a champion soon,” Davis said. “It hurt me a lot [to see him lose]. I know how hard he works and I know what he’s capable of. He’s only 20 years old. The sky’s the limit. His mind is right. He’s around good people and he’s around family. That’s all that matters. He’s already been a champion his whole life. There’s nothing more he’s got to prove to nobody.”
While Pico has been primarily associated with AKA, Davis said he has been training with his fellow prospect at Team Bodyshop, a group that includes A.J. McKee and Kevin Ferguson Jr., among others. Davis is unclear on what it means for Pico’s future training plans, however.
“I’m not sure about his business. All I know is he’s been practicing with us. Preparing for my fight. We’re helping him prepare for his fight [at Bellator 183]. He’s helping A.J. out,” Davis said. “I’ve known him since I was 8 years old, so I don’t give a damn what team he’s on. He’s just like a brother to me. I don’t really know what he’s gonna do.”
In general, Davis has taken interest in the progress of all of his fellow wrestling prospects and feels a connection with everyone because of their similar background.
“I keep track of all those guys because we’re all from the same background,” he said. “We’ve all got love for each other. We’re all competitive. I want to see them do well because we’re all wrestlers. I keep track of all of those guys. I’m big fans of all of them.”