James Gonzalez gets his hand raised after defeating Cody Law...

James Gonzalez gets his hand raised after defeating Cody Law at Bellator 282 in June of 2022. Credit: Bellator MMA/Lucas Noonan

Since retiring from MMA, James Gonzalez’s MMA career keeps finding new life and improved situations.

The Shirley-raised Gonzalez, who has trained under Matt Serra and Ray Longo for close to a decade, signed with a new agent. He fought and won in the PFL Challenger series. And now he has a multi-fight deal with Bellator, which begins Saturday. On the main card. In Hawaii. Against Aaron Pico, one of the bigger names in the promotion.

“When I retired, I had like seven guys back-to-back pull out of fights with me and I really didn't know what I was going to do with this anymore,” Gonzalez said to Newsday of what turned out to be a very brief retirement. “I can't get fights. No one wants to fight me. I don't know what to do, I’m not making money with this.”

Things certainly are going in Gonzalez’s favor now, something that hasn’t always been the case in his MMA journey. At 10-5 for his career, and a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt under Serra, he was often looked at as too experienced and advanced to fight against rising prospects on the regional scene anymore, but perhaps not polished enough for the big time.

“He’s got a lot of fights. He’s an older guy. Nobody wants to take any risks today,” Longo said. “James will fight anybody.”

Gonzalez, 33, booked this featherweight fight against Pico at Bellator 295 last week. He was a short-notice replacement for the injured Otto Rodrigues. Gonzalez first fought for Bellator last summer when he decisioned Cody Law, a then-undefeated rising prospect and ranked ninth in Bellator’s 145-pound division.

He followed that up with a first-round TKO of Vikas Singh Ruhil in the PFL Challenger Series last month but was not the fighter selected that night for a contract with the promotion. Instead, he’ll face Pico, a known commodity in MMA.

James Gonzalez after his win at PFL Challenger Series Week...

James Gonzalez after his win at PFL Challenger Series Week 6 on March 3, 2023. Credit: PFL/Cooper Neill

“I’m not just fighting anybody. I’m fighting Aaron Pico. He’s a tough guy and a great fighter,” Gonzalez said. “That's exactly the kind of fight that I want, what I've been trying to get for a long time. I’m happy I could come through for them. And I’m really happy I’m finally going to be able to follow my career path, focus on this 100 percent.”

Pico (10-4) was on a six-fight win streak before a TKO loss due to injury last October against Jeremy Kennedy. In that fight, Pico dislocated his shoulder and tried to pop it back in and continue fighting before the doctor stopped the bout. Pico, 26, had surgery afterward and makes his return Saturday against Gonzalez.

"I just can’t get greedy in the fight,” Pico said during Wednesday's media day in Hawaii. “I have to pick my spots. I punch very, very hard. I don’t think he’s ever fought a guy that hits as hard as me. . . . I am going to hurt him. I’m going to rock him. I’m going to take him down. He;s never felt pressure like me. He’s a guy that’s never been stopped. He’s a veteran. He just kind of survives.”

Gonzalez survived long enough to make it this far, and he doesn’t plan on making Saturday the high point of his career.

“If he beats me up then good on him, but I don't come to lose anywhere,” Gonzalez said. “I'm going to come, I'm going to look to set the pace for the fight and I want to finish. I want to make a statement. I want to make money. This is a big fight for me and it's not going to come easy to him.”

BELLATOR 295 FIGHT CARD

Main card, 11 p.m. ET on Showtime

Bantamweight World Grand Prix Final: Interim champion Raufeon Stots (19-2) vs. Patchy Mix (17-1)

Flyweight: Ilima-Lei Macfarlane (12-2) vs. Kana Watanabe (11-1-1)

Featherweight: Aaron Pico (10-4) vs. James Gonzalez (10-5)

Flyweight: Kyoji Horiguchi (31-5) vs. Ray Borg (16-5)

Prelims, 8 p.m. on YouTube, Pluto TV

Lightweight: Yancy Medeiros (16-8, 1 NC) vs. Charlie Leary (17-13-1)

Featherweight: Mads Burnell (16-5) vs. Justin Gonzales (14-1)

Featherweight: Kai Kamaka III (10-5-1) vs. Adli Edwards (9-2)

Flyweight: Sumiko Inaba (5-0) vs. Veta Arteaga (7-4)

Contract Weight (148 lbs): Keoni Diggs (10-2) vs. Weber Almeida (7-1)

Lightweight: Bobby King (12-5) vs. Aalon Cruz (10-4)

Heavyweight: Davion Franklin (5-1) vs. Kasim Aras (7-1)

Flyweight: Ilara Joanne (11-6) vs. Bruna Ellen (6-4)

Welterweight: Alexey Shurkevich (13-5) vs. Masayuki Kikuiri (8-2-1)

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