Bellator has, for the last several years, been scooping up every notable potential top prospect in MMA, often with no experience, just as soon as they can get them. A string of elite collegiate wrestlers, women boxers and kickboxers, and other unique talents, any one of whom might just pan out to be the ‘next big thing.’ At featherweight, at least, that plan seems to have been a resounding success.
Aaron Pico and AJ McKee Jr. have quickly separated themselves from the pack as elite competitors on their way up the division. Pico, especially, has thrilled – overcoming a harsh debut setback to bulldoze increasingly tougher competition, each win coming with the same level of confidence and ease. His win over Leandro Higo – a 12-year, 22-fight veteran of the sport – was especially impressive. And it has the former national wrestling standout focused on just one thing: a shot at featherweight champion (and Higo corner-man) Patricio ‘Pitbull’ Freire.
“All I said was, ‘Your time is coming,’” Pico told the assembled media after his victory at Bellator 206, recounting some in-cage words traded with Freire. “It’s true. It’s a new generation of young fighters, and the clock is ticking down for him. Every day that he goes and trains there’s a guy like me just waiting to get a shot at him and take his belt. That’s just how it goes.”
Unfortunately for Pico, McKee Jr.’s track record with Bellator at featherweight has put him on exactly the same path. The two men both train under McKee’s father, Antonio McKee Sr., at the Team Bodyshop in Lakewood, CA. Currently standing at 12-0, the younger McKee seems in prime position for a fight with ‘Pitbull.’ And if McKee should win the title, that doesn’t sound like a fight Pico is all that interested in taking.
“We’re not going to fight. His dad’s my coach. But that’s just something we’re going to talk about as a team – that’s for another topic. Right now I’m just focused on my win, and then we’ll talk about that when the time comes.
“But, the bottom line is: his dad is my coach, we’re training partners. So, it’s just not going to happen. That’s a question people are probably going to ask, but that’s something that we’ll discuss face-to-face, and we’ll figure it out.”