Pico, the biggest prospect in the history of mixed martial arts, will fight Henry Corrales in the co-main event of Bellator 214 on Saturday night in Inglewood, Calif. A victory could put Pico next in line for a featherweight title shot against Freire.
If the victory does indeed go down, the 22-year-old Pico has a measure of advice for “Pitbull,” the champion: There won’t be a better time to fight me than the current moment.
“Honestly, I think we’re in a very good spot for a title shot [with a win],” Pico said. “I’m very young. Very, very young. Yeah, it would be a big step. But I feel I could really do it. Ultimately, it’s not my decision, though. But yeah, I think we’re both in a great position to fight for a title. I keep saying, the time to fight me for Patricio is now. I’m young, I’m still relatively new in my career. I would definitely take on the challenge, but if I were him I would try do it now. Give me two more years, it’s just more experience, more strength, more time in the cage. So if I were him, I’d definitely be doing it now.”
Pico (4-1) is not being cocky, necessarily. He’s just speaking his truth. So far, he has backed everything up. In his last fight, Pico knocked out Freire’s teammate Leandro Higo in the first round, a one-sided shellacking. Afterward, Pico called out “Pitbull,” who was in Higo’s corner.
Bellator has not called Pico vs. Corrales a title eliminator fight, though Corrales (16-3) has won four in a row and has a case as well with a victory. Pico has won his last four bouts via vicious first-round knockouts after suffering defeat to Zach Freeman in his debut in 2017. Corrales, who has a loss on his record to Freire, has big punching power and will not be a pushover Saturday.
“He’s a very tough guy,” Pico said. “He’s pretty much good everywhere around. They’re not very fast, but he has those heavy hands and you can’t take his shots for granted. For me, I feel my hands are faster, my boxing is better, my wrestling is obviously on a different level than his. So as long I don’t go crazy and get into a big brawl fest right away, I feel I’m good. I just use my skills, use my jab, work off my jab, take him down if I want to. Elbow him. I feel like I can take the fight anywhere I want to go. And that’s a good motivation to have going into the fight.”
A big key for Pico, he said, is to stay away from engaging Corrales in a fire fight. Pico has had a tendency to do that early in his career. It was his undoing against Freeman, who dropped him and the choked him out.
“It’s something that I always like to do,” Pico said. “I like to freakin’ throw bombs at people’s heads. I really do — enjoy it. But it comes with age that I need to take my time, use my jab.
“The longer the fight goes, the better. If you watch my sparring, the first round, yeah I’m doing good. But the second round, third, fourth and fifth are the best rounds that I produce. I’m just relaxed, using my jab, looking for the takedown. So for me, I go past the first round, it’s better for me. I relax, I get into my zone. Once I get into my zone, I really can let my hands go, work the angles and show my skills. The nervous energy in the fight, the first couple seconds and first minute or two is actually the most difficult for me. But the longer it goes, the better for me.”
Another thing Pico will have to contend with if he beats Corrales is his spot in the division compared to his teammate and friend A.J. McKee. Bellator president Scott Coker said last month that the 13-0 McKee could be next in line for Freire. Not a problem, Pico said, reiterating they will never fight each other.
“If he gets the title shot, that’s OK with me,” Pico said. “I have options. I have a lot of options that I can do. I mean, I’m not just stuck in doing one thing. I have many options. And I’ll be in his corner for the title fight. It’s ultimately not my decision. All I can focus on is getting better. That’s what I’m focused on. I have options. If he has the title, then that’s OK. We’ll have to see. All I can do is keep winning fights and putting on the performances that I’ve had and worry about myself, getting my teammates better and ultimately it’ll take care of itself.”
Depending on how things shake out with Bellator, Pico believes he can be the featherweight champion in 2019. He started his research in “Pitbull” a long time ago and believes he is ready tot take on a fighter who has been one of the best in Bellator history.
“I watch everybody,” Pico said. “I was just watching Patricio Pitbull and Emanuel Sanchez for like the fifth time. Studying him. I was just watching it the other day. Of course. In any business, you should always know who your enemies are. You should always know what their weaknesses are, what their strengths are. If you want to be the best, you just have to study it. That’s just the bottom line. You have to know what the competition is. It’s serious for me. I want to become the champion of the world. I want to study it and learn how to become better.”