Even after shocking the world with his 24-second submission of the highly-touted Aaron Pico this past summer, Zach Freeman knows he still has a long way to go to earn the recognition he feels he truly deserves.
On the plus side, as he prepares to face Saad Awad at Bellator 186 on Nov. 3, Freeman has received some more interest from media than he did entering Bellator “NYC” as a relative unknown against Pico.
“I’m getting respect from the reporters. I did kind of call out MMA media after my fight and rightfully so. I got zero press. I walked out to an Aaron Pico video, which I was not happy about. I don’t know any other fighters that are walking out to their opponent’s videos. I didn’t appreciate that, but at the end of the day it should be expected. I hadn’t earned that notoriety yet and I still think I haven’t,” Freeman told Sherdog.com. “I have a lot of work to do before I can consider myself a well-known fighter. I’m sure I made a little bit of a name off Pico, but I don’t want to stop there. I don’t want to settle there. I want to keep going and keep impressing.”
Awad, a 14-time Bellator veteran, should give Freeman the opportunity to do exactly that. The 34-year-old Milennia MMA representative is probably best known for his first-round knockout of former lightweight champ and current UFC talent Will Brooks, and he is a much more experienced opponent than Pico.
“I feel like I got matched up with him because they saw that I took out their prospect who was 0-0 at the time. I know I threw a kink into the plans, so I expected heavy hitters. So I got exactly what I said,” Freeman said of Awad. “He’s a veteran, he’s a heavy-handed puncher and he’s very durable. I think it’s a way of Bellator saying, ‘OK let’s see how you’ll do now.’ And I think I’ll impress.
“I could’ve asked for a couple no names and built up my following. But let’s get down to it. I’m 33, I know he’s 34. I think it makes for a good matchup. It puts me on the main card. That’s where I want to be,” he continued. “I want to be in the spotlight. I want to be fighting some of the toughest guys in Bellator. My goal is to possibly fight for a title, and the only way that’s going to happen is if I keep fighting high level competition.”
While Freeman does have championship aspirations, he knows better than to look past the obstacle in front of him. His own experience as an underdog has taught him that.
“If all goes as planned, I’d say I’d ask for a big fight after [beating Awad]. Depending on who it is, that could very well put me in that position. I’m hoping even a year from now I could be in a position like that,” Freeman said. “I don’t want to put the eggs in one basket and start thinking I’m overlooking him like Pico did to me. He [Pico] was already talking about fighting James Gallagher and all that. I think I can learn from that, and I’ve got to focus on Awad right now.”
In the distant future, Freeman can even envision a return date with Pico. He was impressed with the American Kickboxing Academy product’s performance in his sophomore outing, a first-round knockout of Justin Linn at Bellator 183.
“I was rooting for him. I always root for my past opponents whether I won or lost. That’s because essentially my stock is in their portfolio now. Whether I won or lost, I’m always rooting for my past competition.
“I thought for essentially having as little experience in the cage as he does, I thought he did very well. I thought he took some punches and kept moving. He bit down on his mouthpiece and threw a nice one-two,” Freeman added. “Then he threw the most beautiful shovel hook I’ve ever seen. And man, the snap on that punch, I was just thinking to myself, ‘I’m glad I didn’t let him do that to me.’”
Pico has moved from 155 pounds to featherweight since his rough outing against Freeman. If their paths were to cross again in the future, the stakes could be much higher. At least in a perfect world, they would be — and that would definitely include a more significant paycheck for Freeman.
“I think the perfect scenario would be: I win this fight, win another big fight and put myself in a title position. I win the title. Aaron Pico wins the title in a few fights and essentially he tries to pull a Conor McGregor and says, ‘Hey I want to move up and face Zach Freeman.’ And Bellator has [something] very similar to the Eddie Alvarez-McGregor situation with me and Aaron Pico,” Freema said.
“I think it’d be my best case scenario granting that wish to Aaron, but if he thinks he’s going to win another fight and call me out…..It’s also gonna be something they’re gonna have to pay me to do. I took a hit when I fought him. He made more than I did and he lost to me. It’s gonna be something that will be an investment for Bellator but I think it could very well pay off in a pay-per-view type of event.”