Bellator 183 takes place on Saturday, Sept. 23 in San Jose, Calif. From the top-billed fight on down, Bellator has put together a really solid night of scraps. Aaron Pico’s name is among those in the lineup. He will fight for the second time in his professional career. This time around, though, the blue-chip prospect’s fight isn’t getting nearly the amount of media coverage as his debut garnered.
It seems almost absurd, but Pico is faced with a must-win scenario against his opponent, Justin Linn.
You’d have a hard time finding another MMA fighter — outside of perhaps Brock Lesnar — who made their professional debut under a bigger and brighter stage than Pico did. He was part of Bellator’s NYC event, which featured Chael Sonnen and Wanderlei Silva as part of its pay-per-view offering. It was the very first event that Bellator hosted in New York, and it went down at Madison Square Garden, the most famous sports venue in the entire world. Needless to say, people were watching.
It’s not just that Pico lost his Bellator debut to Zach Freeman. It was the way he lost. It only took the MMA journeyman Freeman 24 seconds to catch the eager wrestler in a guillotine choke and silence the sold-out crowd.
When Scott Coker took over as president for the Viacom-owned company, he immediately started making good move after good move. “We have Aaron Pico, who is the most highly recruited prospect in the history of the sport,” said Coker, just days before Bellator 180.
Even though the standout wrestler has been competing his entire life at a very high level, this MMA thing is still new to him. It’s the fight game, and things don’t always go as planned. Pico handled the loss to Freeman like an absolute professional. He took questions at the post-fight presser with poise and a maturity that is far beyond his 20-year-old makeup.
On Saturday night, Pico has a chance to taste victory professionally for the very first time and start living up to the title of the “best MMA prospect ever.” But make no mistake about it, Linn is looking to make his name off defeating Pico just as Freeman did. “The Mortal Sinn” has a record of 7-3. He is a true veteran, having competed for respectable promotions like the Resurrection Fighting Alliance and The Warriors Cage. He plans on taking full advantage of the opportunity that has been given to him.
By all accounts, Pico is ready for this fight. His teammates at American Kickboxing Academy have repeatedly said that he is focused after an amazing camp.
Can the standout prospect bounce back from the highest-profile debut loss of all time? Yes, he can.
Perhaps more importantly, does Pico need to win this fight to avoid the dubious distinction of being labeled a bust? Unfortunately, that answer might also be yes.