A mixed martial artist’s professional debut typically is a moment they never forget.
Unless you can’t remember stepping in the cage, which is the case for Aaron Pico.
One of MMA’s most hyped prospects in recent years, Pico made his professional debut when Bellator first came to Madison Square Garden in June 2017, only to be knocked down and submitted by the unheralded Zach Freeman in just 24 seconds.
“The fight and everything leading up to it, I don’t really remember,” Pico, 22, said.
Pico (4-2) has taken an unexpectedly rocky road early in his MMA career, but it’s led him back to the Garden for Bellator 222 on Friday, where he’ll face Adam Borics (8-0) in a featherweight bout.
“I never thought I would have two losses on my record, I didn’t do much losing as a kid. I never really saw my career being 4-2,” Pico said. “It’ll be my new goal now, since I can’t be undefeated, if I’m fighting an undefeated guy, he’s going to have that one loss, and it’s going to be by Aaron Pico.”
The California native said he was “just a puppy” when he first came to the Garden, not knowing at all what to expect from the experience of fight week.
“Before, it was just like a normal day. I wasn’t really nervous, that was the problem,” Pico said. “That was bugging me, I wasn’t nervous because I didn’t know what to expect because I’d never really been in that situation before, so I wasn’t really nervous.”
After the sudden defeat, the former junior national champion wrestler was expected to lean on elite grappling skills to find his way in the cage.
That hasn’t been the case.
Instead of embracing the grind, he’s standing and banging, winning four fights by knockout or TKO after his debut loss, only to be knocked out himself in his most recent outing. His longest fight so far lasted three minutes and 45 seconds, and he’s only spent just over 10 minutes in the cage through six fights.
“It was kind of a blessing and a curse that my hands were good because if I was just a straight wrestler, I’d say, ‘OK, whatever, I have to take the guy down.’ Since my hands have been so good, I can say, ‘let’s bring it, I’ll show what I have,’” Pico said.
“With MMA, the small gloves, anything can happen. My grandma could knock me out with these damn small gloves.”
Following a recent move to Jackson Wink MMA Academy in New Mexico, Pico is more confident than ever. He has no regrets about his early career, but wishes he had made the move to Jackson Wink sooner.
“It’s a big difference,” said Pico of the switch in camps. “Just mentally, that’s the biggest difference for me, mentally. I’m just ready to display my skills and what we’ve put together for me. I don’t think this guy is ready for me, I really don’t think he’s ready for me.”