Only a week ago, wrestling/youth boxing standout Aaron Pico signed an unprecedented deal for a future MMA career with the world’s number-two promotion Bellator, and this week he reinforced why he is one of the world’s most vaunted young combat athletes.
Already a 2016 Olympic hopeful in freestyle wrestling and under-18 world champion, Pico, barely 18 years old, earned the biggest victory of his career this past Saturday with a win over 2013 world freestyle wrestling champion David Safaryan of Armenia. The match took place in the gold-medal finals of this year’s Henri Deglane Challenge in Nice, France.
Pico, who is only the age of an average high school senior, has already notched some impressive victories in his time on the mats. In addition to the aforementioned Cadet world championship, the young Californian has claimed wins over Cadet world champion and NCAA All-American Zain Retherford as well as highly-regarded Russian and Ivan Yarygin Memorial Grand Prix runner up Alibeggadzhi Emeev. Those wins showed that Pico has an incredibly bright future, but the victory over Safaryan shows that the American prodigy has what it takes to beat the very best in the world right this second.
While Safaryan’s gold in the 2013 World Championships came as a bit of a surprise (and I found his finals match against Cuba’s Livan Lopez to be…interesting), the Armenian is a battle-tested fixture on the Senior-level freestyle circuit, and legitimately one of the planet’s best wrestlers at 65 kilograms. Pico’s defeat of Safaryan has to rank as the most impressive international freestyle wrestling accomplishment since Dave Schultz medalled at Georgia’s hallowed Tblisi tournament back in the 1970s (there have been some notable domestic wins by high schoolers since then, such as Damion Hahn’s freestyle win over Cael Sanderson, but the instant victory blows that out of the water).
Pico still faces a tough road to make the Olympic team in 2016, but in light of this weekend’s gold in France, his chances look quite a bit more promising. If he waits till after 2020 to commit full time to Bellator, he could very well bring an Olympic medal with him into the world of mixed martial arts.
About the author