Leandro Higo wants to make a statement in his featherweight debut at Bellator.
One of the top bantamweights on the roster, facing the 135-pound champion in two of his three promotional appearances (his bout with Eduardo Dantas was a non-title catchweight affair due to Higo having to step in as a late replacement), Higo will move up in weight to take on rising 145-pound prospect Aaron Pico at Saturday night’s Bellator 206 in San Jose.
Looking to get back on track following a loss to Darrion Caldwell in March, a defeat that he says taught him to focus more on his strengths and not as much on what his opponents can do, “Pitbull” hopes to derail Pico’s hype in California.
After his first camp as a featherweight since 2010 — when he competed at 145 pounds for the first and only time — and not having to worry too much about weight cutting, Higo will decide in which weight class he competes on next based on Saturday’s performance, but sees a bright future in both weight classes.
“Aaron Pico is a big name,” Higo told MMA Fighting. “When I beat Aaron Pico, everything will change for me at both 145 and 135. Everything will change. Defeating such a big name, I will be in a great position in both divisions. I’ll be back in the mix.”
Pico built a stellar resume in wrestling and boxing before making the transition to mixed martial arts, racking up a 3-1 record in less than a year. The 22-year-old talent stopped his last three opponents in devastating fashion in Bellator, but Higo guarantees he will be too much for Pico right now.
“Aaron Pico is a prospect that Bellator is trying to build,” Higo said. “He was a champion in wrestling and boxing, training with Freddie Roach, but he’s just started in MMA, has one loss and three wins. He’s young, is coming up strong with several knockouts. Bellator is building him up, but he hasn’t fought anyone like me before.
“We’ve only seen Aaron Pico attacking, those brutal knockouts, but we haven’t seen how he behaves when someone is attacking him. We will see that now. When he moves forward, his opponents move backwards in fear, but it will be different now. I’m looking forward to this fight.”
Pico has impressed in his last three Bellator appearances, but Higo sees holes in his game.
“I’ve noticed many mistakes he does,” Higo said. “The first punch Aaron Pico took in MMA he went down and got submitted. I don’t think he was punched hard once after that. The only hard punch he took in MMA he went down. Bellator is doing everything they can to build him up as a star, but things don’t happen like that. See that little chicken, James Gallagher. Bellator tried everything to make him a star and he was stopped, and it’s Aaron Pico’s turn now.”
A former RFA champion and The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil contender, the 29-year-old Brazilian has earned stoppages in 13 of his 18 professional MMA victories, including 10 submission finishes, but won’t make an official prediction as to how he gets the job done at Bellator 206.
“I have heavy hands, and they are even heavier now that I gained muscle mass for this fight,” Higo said. “If my hands connect, it can rock anyone.”
“I can submit him,” he continued. “Many people say he has great boxing. Ok, he does, but I train boxing too. He has great wrestling, but I have wrestling too and can take him down. We are obsessed by our opponent’s abilities sometimes and forget about ours. If we scramble, I guarantee you he doesn’t have my level of jiu-jitsu. I want to mix it up and put him on his back to see how he reacts.”