When Getting Better Means Getting Meaner

By Jason Burgos Sep 25, 2018

Bellator MMA lightweight Adam Piccolotti has experienced his share of success and failure. Ahead of his Bellator 206 catchweight clash with James Terry on Sept. 29 at the SAP Center in San Jose, California, he set out to correct recent missteps by working primarily at the American Kickboxing Academy. There, Piccolotti has begun gleaning information from new mentor Josh Thomson.

A grappler through and through, Piccolotti wrestled competitively from fifth grade until he graduated from high school. He transitioned to Brazilian jiu-jitsu when he realized no college scholarships were forthcoming. Years of grappling instilled self-determination, especially since Piccolotti was often the smallest guy on the mat. As a result, he developed a mean streak.

“I was always the runt coming up, even into my early 20s,” Piccolotti told Sherdog.com. “As a wrestler, I always liked slapping on nasty cross-faces. I was always a little bit on the rough side.”

The 29-year-old sees his transition from wrestling and jiu-jitsu to striking and MMA as organic -- a natural progression spurred by the need for competition. Even so, Piccolotti admits a career in mixed martial arts was not a lifelong dream.

“I didn’t see the UFC back in the day and say, ‘That’s what I want to do,’” Piccolotti said. “The freedom to be creative, [along with] doing some damage and some cool things was [what appealed to me about] MMA.”

The Half Moon Bay, California, native jumped out to an impressive 9-0 start as a pro. Although, he mixed in some short stints at the American Kickboxing Academy during many of his camps, Piccolotti trained primarily out of Raul Castillo Martial Arts -- the same local gym at which he began his Brazilian jiu-jitsu training. With such a successful start to his career, a change in his training situation seemed unnecessary, until he endured a nightmarish 2017 campaign that saw him suffer back-to-back defeats to Goiti Yamauchi and David Rickels.

“It hurts my soul just thinking about it,” Piccolotti said. “I honestly believe I am a better fighter than both of those dudes.”

The losses forced him to take an honest assessment of where he was at this stage of his career. Piccolotti feels he had become stagnant as a fighter. While he was a perfect 9-0 with six finishes entering his clash with Yamauchi, he had not been pushed enough in his previous appearances and lacked valuable fight experience.

“Coming up [undefeated], I had a lot of good fights, [but] the guys that I fought were well-matched for me,” Piccolotti said. “It’s not like I had [fought] tomato cans, but at the same time, I really didn’t face too much adversity.”

He was also a big fish in a small pond at his gym, where he was no longer getting the resistance he needed to mature as a fighter. Piccolotti also arrived at the realization that he lacked a fight IQ that was in line with his level of physical proficiency. While he maintains his base at Raul Castillo Martial Arts once a week, he made the American Kickboxing Academy his permanent home. There, he receives instruction from world-class coaches like Javier Mendez and Bob Cook while sharpening his skills alongside fighters like current Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight titleholder Khabib Nurmagomedov.

“I’ve been going through it with these guys, having tough rounds back and forth and sometimes being on the losing end,” Piccolotti said, “but regardless, [I am] always getting the push that I need.”

Along with his extensive work at the American Kickboxing Academy, Piccolotti has spent time with Thomson at the former Strikeforce champion’s personal facility: Knoxx Gym. A 32-fight veteran with wins over Gilbert Melendez, Nate Diaz, Gesias Cavalcante and K.J. Noons, “The Punk” has proven to be an invaluable resource.

“The addition of Josh Thomson has been amazing,” Piccolotti says. “Josh is a living legend. What I’m doing is picking his brain at every opportunity that I have.”

Piccolotti snapped his two-fight losing streak and returned to the win column in May, when he submitted the previously unbeaten Carrington Banks at Bellator 199.

“That was a great fight for me,” he said. “I showed up and I did what I needed to do.”

While Piccolotti has grown confident in all of his abilities, he has no problem employing his grappling skills on the mat, even against an accomplished amateur wrestler like Terry.

“I’m open to a ground battle with anybody. I’m the best grappler in this division,” Piccolotti said. “I don’t care what happened in that Goiti fight. I’m better than him, too.”

With five submission wins under his belt, Piccolotti views himself as a fully formed grappler.

“I’m not going into a cage fight looking to be on the bottom, roll upside down [and] be that traditional jiu-jitsu guy. I think I’m definitely a hybrid,” he said. “I like that top pressure. I like making a guy uncomfortable and tiring him out.”

Piccolotti has noticed one recent change to his approach.

“Honestly,” he said, “I’ve become a little bit more mean.”
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