On Jan. 20, touted MMA prospect Aaron Pico will take on veteran fighter Shane Kruchten at Bellator 192. Our own Robert Vallejos conducted a phone interview with Pico prior his fight against Kruchten. Pico discusses his preparation, managing expectations, and a possible future in boxing.
(Writer’s note: This interview has been slightly edited for clarity)
Robert Vallejos: Hi Aaron, how is camp going?
Aaron Pico: I’m ready I feel good everything is good, honestly I’m ready for January 20th .
RV: This time how different is training coming off of a win as opposes to coming off of a loss?
AP: Nothing has changed. My whole mindset has always been to just be the best fighter I could possibly be. Coming off of the first loss, what did I do wrong? What do I change up in my training? After my second fight, what do I got to do be better. So, Antonio McKee did a great job after that last fight of just working with me on all kinds of different things. I mean I worked on the ground, my kicks, my boxing. Nothing really changes, after each fight how do I become better? Especially in this game, evolving so much, you better be on the lookout how to better yourself.
RV: Did you find that the self-evaluation process was different, was it valuable to take a loss?
AP: The biggest thing for me after the Madison Square Garden loss was training with Antonio McKee. I think everything went well for my first fight but I didn’t really have the structure that I needed, like a one-on-one coach that I’m with every day. So, the best thing that ever happened to me after that loss at Madison Square Garden was meeting Antonio McKee and those guys at the Body Shop. It changed my MMA career. I feel it changed my life, getting that call from Antonio McKee.
So, no nothing has really changed I have a coach that has the same mindset as me; that’s to become the champ of the world. Every guy he that trains, it’s not many, but it’s just “how do I make this guy the best possible fighter on this earth?” The meanest badest, toughest, most skilled fighter on the planet.
So, with that in mind you’re constantly evolving every day, working on different things, so I’m very grateful for the guys at the Body Shop and Antonio McKee.
RV: Aaron, you’re a guy that has had a lot of pressure put on your debut are fight since then, now that you are getting into a rhythm, does the pressure feel like its changed?
AP: I love it! I train so hard and I do what I need to do, I don’t even think about it honestly. I do what I possibly can to better myself and to be the best conditioned athlete, and the best fighter in the world. So, I have nothing to worry about, to be honest with you.
I just have to go out there and relax. That my biggest thing just relax and get in that cage time. But I know to be the best fighter in the world, of course your going to have pressure, that comes with the territory. But its nothing different than I’ve had to deal with wrestling. That’s what wakes my up in the morning, to work as hard as I do, its that pressure, that incentive, nervousness, that sense of fear. That’s healthy for the brain, that’s healthy for a person. I’m thankful for that, a lot of people would love to be in the position that I’m in, like I said that’s what wakes me up is that pressure, that fuel that drive, it’s a good thing.
RV: Is it time to remove the prospect label from Aaron Pico?
AP: I’m going to say, that’s for everyone to decide. I don’t care if people call me the next prospect, or the Lebron James of MMA fighting, that stuff does not mean anything. You know, that the thing that matters the most is winning. That’s on my mind to go out there and win. I don’t care if people call me the next Muhammad Ali, the next Conor McGregor. That goes through one ear and out the other. My whole mindset and my whole objective is to win and be the best fighter in the world, if I do that, I’ll let the people decide what they want to call me.
RV: You’ve been fighting frequently since your debut, this is your 3rd fight in 8 months, is that a pace you want to sustain?
AP: Absolutely! If not more. If I stay healthy I want fight as much as I possibly can I need the experience, and I love it, I love what I do every day I’m addicted to it. I wake up every day, and I’m like, “How do I become the best fighter in the world?” I want to fight, I want to get the experience. Only one way to get experience in this game, and that’s by fighting. That’s what I got to do, to be the best, is to fight, to be in those positions, feel the pressure, feel the crowd, feel the lights, feel everything! I want to fight, God willing and I stay healthy, that’s what I do for a living and I’m privileged. I’m healthy, I’ve got a good body, everything is good, so let’s do it!
RV: You’ve been very aggressive in both of your fights, is that style going to define Aaron Pico as a very aggressive fighter?
AP: Yeah, when it’s all said and done, that’s who I am. I’m gut the likes to just go in there and fight. Honestly, I work on my defense of course, I don’t like to get hit, but I’m not afraid to get hit. It’s just the game that we’re in, where you get hit, and if that shaves a few years off of my life because I got hit, I’m ok with that. As long as I’m the champ of the world and my family is taken care of, I’m ok with that.
Obviously, I’m not going to go in there and be stupid and try to get hit, but if I have to take a few punches, I have to take a few punches. That’s what’s most exciting, and that’s the style I’ve always done in wrestling, I go forward, I try to break you down, I try to get you tired, and that’s what I do, that’s the Aaron Pico’s style.
Antonio McKee has a little bit of a different style, but he recognizes that my style is to go forward and be in the pocket, so he adjusts his coaching to help me. I don’t have to get this guy in the pocket and not get hit, I’m going to use my footwork, and that’s what we have been doing.
RV: Your opponent for this next fight Shane Kruchten has over a decade of pro experience, how do you plan on handing the experience gap between the two of you?
AP: How I did my last fight, go in there relaxed, use my jab, do what I need to do, pick my shots, and well see if he’s still standing. I can tell you, I’ve prepared very very well, I will not get tired, I’ve prepared on the ground, getting tired is not even in my vocabulary.
I’m ready for the ground, I’m ready for the feet, I’m ready for every possible situation, all I need is one shot on the chin and he will go down, that’s all I need. I’m not being cocky or anything like that…I have a lot of trust in my hands, I have a lot of trust in my kicks as well, and my wrestling. I’ve put in a lot of work since the last fight, so I’m ready for every situation possible. So now how I deal wit that is just relax and do what I do.
RV: Overall how comfortable are you at featherweight?
AP: Very very comfortable. This is my weight. I eat very well, I take care of my body often, through the year, there is not such thing as cutting weight, I’m always in striking distance to make 145. That’s not a problem, you just eat the right things, have the right nutritionist and make weight. But I feel so much faster, quicker, stronger and I can actually lift more weight at featherweight than I can do at lightweight. My numbers increased rapidly going down to featherweight, than even at lightweight. That’s an indicator that my overall health and conditioning is better at featherweight. I even feel better.
RV: So, if you’re that comfortable at featherweight, how for away do you think you are from a title shot?
AP: Man, I have no idea. My whole goal now is just to win fights. If I keep winning fights, championships will come, its just a matter of time, when Ill become champion of the world. If I just dedicate myself to my craft and how to be the best fighter in the world I will be world champion. That’s my whole mindset, I don’t how far, I don’t know when it will come but that’s my whole goal, and that’s what I’m looking for every single day, I wake up with a purpose, and that is to be champ of the world. Everyday I’m one step closer to being champ of the world, with that in mind. I take it one fight at a time, and before you know it, its going to be Aaron Pico the featherweight world champion for Bellator.
RV: You’re in a promotion that has a mix of a lot of younger fighters like yourself and James Gallagher, and you have the legends of the sport like Chael Sonnen and Fedor Emelianenko, how good of a job does Bellator do of mixing those two eras of MMA together?
AP: I think Bellator does a great job with that, I mean we have legends, we have the best up-and-comers in this organization. I think the Bellator team and Scott Coker do a great job with having a different flavor for everything.
RV: You were pretty accomplished in combat sports before you came to MMA, and recently that’s been the thing for MMA fighters to talk about getting back into the other combat sports. Are you getting the itch to box or wrestle?
AP: I’ve always wanted to box since I was a kid, I thought was going to be a professional boxer. That’s what I really wanted to do, but when I started to do MMA as kid I like man I love MMA too. For sure I will definitely have some boxing fights in me in my career. I want to box as much as I possibly can, I love boxing.
I mean I’m at Wild Card (A boxing gym) sparing with the best boxers in the world, working under Freddie Roach, so I have an idea where I’m at and I’m capable of becoming a great boxer, with the right guidance, and the right help. Its definitely possible to have a future in it. I mean it will happen, I will have some boxing fights definitely.
RV: Before I let you go I have one small question, are we going to get any changes to your walk-up music or is going to remain “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang”?
AP: That’s my song “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang”!
RV: Alright Aaron, I’ll talk to you later, I appreciate your time today.
AP: Alright Robert, I appreciate it.