Aaron Pico says ‘everything’s flowing’ ahead of Bellator 252 – Press Enterprise

John de Jesus shows plenty of confidence, even a healthy dose of swagger, going into Thursday’s Bellator MMA fight with Aaron Pico.

The 30-year old from Pennsylvania has 21 fights to Pico’s nine and made his pro MMA debut in 2012, when Pico was a freshman at St. John Bosco High in Bellflower.

Once their featherweight fight was announced last month, de Jesus went to social media to mock Pico for his pair of knockout losses: “Sounds like he’s dying to go to sleep again!”

Pico, who is looking for his third victory of 2020, not only expects de Jesus to run his mouth at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, he hopes the gums are flapping for their prelim fight. That means de Jesus’ brain is focused elsewhere.

“But it’s gonna be hard to talk when I’m throwing combinations to your body and to your head,” Pico, 24, said. “It’s gonna be kinda hard to get a word out.”

Pico (6-3) and his team at Jackson Wink MMA Academy in Albuquerque are excited he is fighting his first southpaw, and Pico expects de Jesus (13-8) to come out striking quickly.

“The thing is, I’ve wrestled against guys like this. I’ve wrestled against fast-twitch guys in Cuba, all over the world. It takes a while,” the former world-class wrestler said. “You’ve gotta settle them down, you’ve gotta get their respect. But one thing about fighting: You can earn respect very, very quickly with just one punch to the gut or the chin.

“I just gotta go in there and relax and I think I’m gonna see everything. I really do.”

Second home

Albuquerque has become home away from home for Aaron Pico. Though nearly 800 miles away from his family in Whittier, Pico felt a little less homesick last month.

The Dodgers’ run to their first World Series title in 32 years brought the presence of several blue L.A. caps around New Mexico’s largest city. Albuquerque was once home to the Dukes, the Dodgers’ longtime Triple-A franchise until 2000.

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Pico grew up a Dodgers fan. His aunt, Dolores Buonauro, is the team’s longtime front office switchboard operator, so Pico was repping his squad during that wild October postseason.

“Of course. I’ve got a Dodgers mask and hat,” Pico said. “A lot of Dodgers fans here, a lot of L.A. fans. Whenever the Dodgers are playing, it’s on TV everywhere.”

Pico and his longtime girlfriend, Kylie Chacon, occasionally find time to return to Southern California, but not as much as they’d like. He misses seeing his parents, grandparents and brother, not to mention the taco trucks.

But he says everyone understands his motivations.

“I know I have to do this. I want to do this because I want to be the best fighter in the world,” Pico said. “And sometimes you have to sacrifice a little bit of things to get what you want, but that’s been the hardest thing for me.”

Second family

Pico arrived in Albuquerque in April 2019, having settled on Jackson Wink’s Greg Jackson, Brandon Gibson and Roberto “Tussa” Alencar to right his rocky MMA career.

Just five years earlier, Pico had signed with Bellator, touted as the sport’s next big thing. And Pico, trusting his heart, mind and tenacity, had no reason to doubt it.

So when Pico suffered his second consecutive KO loss – via a flying knee from undefeated Adam Borics in a matchup of top prospects – less than two months after joining Jackson-Wink, there was no reason to panic.

“I believed I was the best prospect but I just needed to develop – and I didn’t really have that. Even the guys I’m fighting now have more experience than me and have more fights than me,” Pico said. “But I really had to learn on the job and I’m OK with that. I’m very happy. All the things that happened in my life before I would do it all over again because it led me to the three coaches I have now.”

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Pico has rebounded with two victories in 2020 – a second-round knockout of Daniel Carey in January at The Forum in Inglewood, then a tapout victory over Chris Hatley via rear-naked choke in the first round in July in Uncasville.

For the former Golden Gloves boxer and internationally decorated wrestler, getting that first submission win was as satisfying for him as it was for his coaches.

Gibson, Pico’s striking coach, says Pico’s confidence in his wrestling and grappling will be crucial in his development.

“We’re polishing up his striking. He’s developing some fierce ground-and-pound. He’s mastering MMA wrestling, but bringing that jiu-jitsu game is gonna show another side,” Gibson said. “Soon it’s gonna be a terrifying approach for any future adversary. There’s not gonna be holes left. There’s not gonna be any clear paths to victory against Aaron.”

Second chance

The biggest benefit might have come between that Borics loss and before his current modest win streak.

A lot can happen in eight months, and best of all was little happened for Pico other than talking and training with his coaches.

“I just needed time to heal.” Pico said. “Then it was my development of my skills. Now things are starting to click.”

MMA has been a much tougher sport to learn than Pico and his camp once believed. He has gone from relying heavily on his striking to having a well-stocked toolbox at his disposal.

What’s more, his coaches have instilled in him the wherewithal for why to do some things in the cage, and more importantly, why not to do others.

“Of course, I’m still learning, but I’m more aware of the things I didn’t know. It’s a good feeling,” Pico said. “Before, I fought these guys, honestly I really only had my hands. My wrestling was there, but I just wasn’t very confident in my grappling. But now I’m super confident in my grappling. Everything’s just flowing.”

Not many fighters with 6-3 records are being touted as potential future world champions. At Jackson Wink, over the years the home of several world champions, including legends like Georges St-Pierre and Jon Jones, they know what they have in Pico.

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Gibson, who has been in the corner for 20 UFC championship fights, says Pico has all the attributes that cannot be taught.

“That self-belief, that work ethic, that drive, that hunger. And that’s what’s gonna really continue to carry Aaron,” Gibson said. “Even through those three losses, he’s been able to grow and strengthen that vision of who he wants to become and where he wants to be. And that’s something you can’t teach people. You can’t teach people how to rebound through adversity. And he has that and he carries it.”