Aaron Pico has been heralded as the “greatest prospect” in the history of cage fighting by renowned fight promoter Scott Coker.
Pico, just 20 years old, fights for the first time on Saturday at Madison Square Garden, New York City, in Bellator 180 — the rival to mixed martial arts promotion UFC.
Televised on Spike pay-per-view in America and Channel 5 in Britain, he takes on Missouri lightweight Zach Freeman. Coker expects him to win easily.
Pico, who has been on the Bellator wage bill since 2014, is touted as the man who could replace Conor McGregor as the next mixed martial arts superstar.
He first wrestled when he was four years old and blossomed into an elite grappler. He studied jiu-jitsu at the renowned 10th Planet club under submission expert Eddie Bravo. He also boxes at the Wildcard gym under the tutelage of Freddie Roach, the coach who turned Manny Pacquiao into a boxing icon.
“Pico has been a two-year process,” Coker told Business Insider. “We have invested in him for years but he will be a big, big star.”
He added: “This kid is a Golden Gloves-level boxer and an Olympic level wrestler. In the last few years we’ve organised training for him to enhance his jiu-jitsu and his anti jiu-jitsu. You know what all this means? Nobody will be able to take this kid down and nobody in MMA will be able to outbox him.”
His opponent Freeman has far more fight experience, with eight wins and just two losses in the cage. But Coker said that will matter little after the opening bell. And this weekend is just the start — Coker said it is time to put the fighter on a Mike Tyson-style fast-track to success.
He wants Pico to compete eight or nine times in his first 12 months as a professional fighter. “Pico is a great, great addition to the 155 pound [11 stone and 1 pound] weight class and we’re going to put him on the Mike Tyson track and organise fights for him every six weeks.”
Tyson boxed 18 times in his first 12 months as a professional. He became the youngest fighter to ever win the heavyweight world championship when he beat Trevor Berbick in 1986, aged 20.
If Pico can claim the Bellator world title in just 20 months time it would be impressive. It would mean beating the likes of former UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson and current Bellator king, Michael Chandler
“Once he has a lot of fights under his belt we’ll have him fight the big guys,” Coker said.
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