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Shane Kruchten: Aaron Pico fight at Bellator 192 ‘just another day in the office’

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Featherweight Shane Kruchten doesn’t plan on giving top prospect Aaron Pico much respect when they meet in the cage at Bellator 192 on Saturday.

Shane Kruchten was at Home Depot with his four-year-old daughter getting Christmas decorations in early December when he received a very important call.

His manager, Julian Gregorio, was on the other end. He informed Kruchten that Bellator had made him an offer to face top featherweight prospect Aaron Pico at Bellator 192 on Jan. 20 in Los Angeles.

Saying yes to the Pico bout was a no-brainer for Kruchten, who last fought at WSOF 34 in December 2016, picking up a win at the promotion’s debut show at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Kruchten had a tough year financially in 2017; the 35-year-old said he had to rely on his fiancé to pay many of their bills. WSOF re-branded to the PFL last year and only held three events in 2017. Kruchten wasn’t offered a spot on either three cards, which, he said, was “frustrating.”

Kruchten still had some positive moments in 2017 despite being inactive: he took care of some nagging injuries that had been bothering him for up to five years; he spent time with his family; and he kept working on his jiu-jitsu game. But occasional private lessons were ultimately not paying the bills, so he finally asked the PFL for his release last December.

He waited for nearly a year to look outside the PFL for a fight because of the PFL’s new tournament format that is expected to kick off this summer. The tournament champions in each weight class will win $1 million, and Kruchten did not want to give up the potential of taking home that life-changing sum of money. It was a “pretty darn good reason to sit around not really doing anything,” he said.

But when he realized the tournament would not start when it was initially expected to — this month — he knew he needed to move on. In a “mutual parting of the ways,” the promotion granted him his release and he was able to field offers from other companies.

Kruchten said the Bellator offer came literally hours after receiving his PFL release. He also had gotten an offer from international promotion ACB weeks before, but turned it down to stay loyal to the United States (he’s a veteran).

“My manager is a beast, he’s straight savage,” Kruchten told BloodyElbow.com. “(When he called me), he goes, ‘Hey, you ready for a good Christmas?’ And I go, ‘What’s that?’ And that’s when he told me. And I was like, ‘What?! Yes, absolutely, I’ll take it.’

“I’ve always been a firm believer in everything happens for a reason in life, and good things happen to good people that always keep being good.”

Kruchten immediately started losing weight. Because he loves craft beer and competes in jiu-jitsu at welterweight — and because he hadn’t fought for nearly a year — he weighed 193 pounds when he got the Pico fight. He immediately cut carbohydrates and returned to a plant-based diet — that is his fight-camp routine — and lost more than 25 pounds in just a few weeks. He weighed 160 pounds one month out and has been walking around about 10 pounds over for the past two weeks. The weight cut won’t be an issue, Kruchten said.

His opponent, Pico, has many accolades in wrestling, including multiple U.S. national championships. He nearly made the Olympics in 2016. Pico also has experience as a boxer. Now, he is known as one of the best prospects in MMA.

He made his professional debut at Bellator: NYC last June, but lost to Zach Freeman by submission in less than 30 seconds. In his sophomore appearance, however, the 21-year-old beat Justin Linn by highlight-reel knockout.

Kruchten isn’t concerned about the fact that everyone is talking about Pico — he looks at it as just another fight. It’s important, Kruchten said, that he doesn’t let the significance of the bout get to his head.

“I think hype is about as useful as a dirty pair of underwear,” Kruchten said. “To me, hype is a joke. Just like the guy he fought in NYC; he goes, ‘You can take the hype train and derail it, easy.’ And look what he did. Zach brought a fight to him, and I do the same thing. In my gym, we’re always told, ‘Don’t believe any hype of any fighter.’ Some of the baddest mofos in the world get shut out real fast.

“At the end of the day, I’m thinking: it is what it is. If he’s going to get hyped, that’s on him if it gets in his head. But me as an opponent, you’re not gonna get in my head with any sort of hype.”

Kruchten signed a three-fight deal with Bellator, but he knows he needs to shine on Saturday or else he won’t get another opportunity in the major MMA promotion. Luckily, he is a massive underdog, so that removes all the pressure; Kruchten said he has everything to gain and nothing to lose. For Pico, it’s the opposite.

“That’s the best kind of fight to be in,” he said. “I’m coming out and being me. I’m being the ‘War Rhino.’ I’ve always been the ‘War Rhino.’ This ain’t the first time I’ve been an underdog, and this ain’t gonna be the last time. It’s just another day in the office.”

Kruchten respects and is very familiar with Pico. He doesn’t think this is a good matchup for the young, rising star whatsoever. Kruchten said Pico will be a “murderer” in a year, after getting some more experience, but now’s not his time.

“I’ve been a fan of his — which is really creepy — prior to getting the fight with him. Now I’m not a fan until after the fight,” Kruchten said. “I’m a big USA wrestling team fan, and I’ve watched this kid for years. My first pro fight, he was in fifth grade. It’s kind of crazy to go back and think about it like that.

“I give it to Aaron; Aaron does have accolades in boxing and wrestling. But this isn’t a boxing or wrestling fight. Boxing, you hold your hands a lot lower; you’re able to get away with a lot more. Wrestling, you’re not worried about elbows. I throw a lot of elbows, I throw knees. I get dirty, I love the grind. And I have a really good jiu-jitsu game. To pick me (as Pico’s next opponent) was a wrong idea, but at the end of the day, it’s a fight. Anything can happen.”

Kruchten compares himself to Pico’s first opponent, Freeman. And we know how Freeman vs. Pico went down. Kruchten thinks his fight with Pico will look quite similar.

“I look at Zach and I’m like, ‘There’s me.’ Zach is me,” Kruchten said. “The don’t-give-a-crap attitude, because I don’t give a crap. He’s willing to take a fight to somebody; I’m willing to take a fight to somebody. And he doesn’t let the hype get in his head, just like me — I’m not letting any of this get in my head.

“I’ve watched the fight a few times, and it’s kind of funny, because his style is identical to mine. He’s a jiu-jitsu guy that has good striking, but he’s not scared to come forward. I’m taller than Zach, and if you watch that fight, Aaron had a lot of problems punching upwards. And I’m even taller, so let’s have fun with that. And Zach didn’t throw any kicks; I don’t have ‘good night’ tattooed on my foot for no reason — it’s not just tattooed there because it looks good.”

Being tentative against Pico is not on Kruchten’s to-do list. Looking back on Pico’s only MMA win, Kruchten said his opponent, Linn, “looked scared.” The key to the matchup, Kruchten said, is not to do what Linn did.

“If you watched that fight, when he got knocked out in the first round, he was scared the entire fight,” Kruchten said. “He was timid, he never came forward towards Aaron. He had way too much respect.

“If I let him get into his game, which is that stalking style of boxing and wrestling, obviously I’m gonna get knocked the heck out — he wins automatically. I just need to go out there, do my thing, and show respect, but not too much.”

And how does Kruchten get it done? A second-round D’arce choke, he said.

“I’m putting him unconscious.”

The Bellator 192 main card airs on the Paramount Network at 9 PM ET/8 PM CT.

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