MMA

Aaron Pico details comeback from ‘painful’ shoulder surgery, promises he’s ‘still on the path to be a world champion’ in 2023

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Aaron Pico has always been considered an athletic freak, but he still somehow managed to defy the odds with his rapid return from a freak injury suffered in his last fight.

With a potential title shot on the line, the now 26-year-old featherweight barely got started in his opening round fight against Jeremy Kennedy when it was clear something was wrong with his shoulder. Pico made it back to his corner where an attempt was made to yank his separated shoulder back into the socket but the ringside physician refused to allow him to continue with the fight being stopped after five minutes.

It was a disappointing end to arguably the biggest fight of his career after Pico put together a six-fight win streak to get into title contention but he refused to let the setback actually mire him in defeat.

“When I assess the situation, I really had to look back on the fight and I’ll say this — I talked to the boss [Scott Coker], I talked to [my manager] Ali [Abdelaziz] and they said listen, we don’t really count this as a loss,” Pico explained when speaking to MMA Fighting. “So that box is checked off. I look at my purse, I made all of my money, everything was good as far as that and then I assess the fight and I say wow, I had a shoulder that was out of place and I was able to survive that. I calmed my mind in the heat of battle, when s*** was going everywhere, I was able to calm myself and to minimize the damage and make it to the second round. That is a win for me. I look at it like that.

“Then the next step is figuring out what is wrong with the shoulder. I did that and the doctor said this is what needs to be done and this is the timeframe and it sounds so easy and people make it so complicated but you figure out how do I get back? Of course you go through dark moments but I didn’t even think about that. All I thought about was when was I going to get back. How could I get my shoulder healthy. Control what I could control and when it’s time to fight again, I will win. I will come back.”

Pico admits that the aftermath from his surgery to repair the damaged shoulder was absolutely excruciating, but once again, he refused to let that deter him from getting into physical therapy so he could start working towards his return.

According to Pico, he attacked his rehabilitation with the same kind of ferocity that he usually reserves for his training camps. When it came time to go back to his doctor for a checkup, his physician was shocked at how quickly he managed to recover, especially considering the severity of his injury and the subsequent surgery to repair the damage done.

“First off, when I had the surgery, it was the worst pain I’ve ever been in,” Pico said. “It was actually really bad and I said this is crazy how painful it is. As time went on, it just started feeling really good. I started making progress with the therapist and then the first visit back with the doctor he said this is crazy how much mobility that you have, the strength that you have.

“I really buckled down on my rehab. I had a great therapist out here in Albuquerque and I really hit it hard. Like I said, Dr. Warren Kramer in Newport Beach is one of the best shoulder surgeons in the United States and it just went really smooth. It wasn’t a time to get fat. It wasn’t a time to slack off or anything like that. I really dialed in my eating and recovery and sleep and I got strong. I got really strong and I was back to training really fast.”

Considering he had shoulder surgery six months ago, Pico’s comeback at Bellator 295 might seem a little too fast as if perhaps he’s rushing to return rather than actually allowing his body to heal properly.

Pico says that couldn’t be further from the truth because if anything, he actually feels better now than he did before the injury was suffered in the first place.

“People always ask me how did you come back so fast? It wasn’t like I was rushing it to be honest with you,” Pico said. “I was just very, very focused on everything. To my sleep, to my diet, to my lifting program, to my conditioning and listening to my therapist and my doctor. My body just healed very, very nicely and I’m just so happy with how my shoulder feels.

“It definitely does feel stronger. My coach on the pads said my left has never felt stronger. Everybody knows that I have a strong left hook, I’ve knocked a lot of people out with it and he said this thing is very, very scary, actually more powerful than it ever was. I’m in a good position.”

Since the day he made his professional debut, Pico has been called a future champion but he’s stumbled a few times along the way. The devastating shoulder injury could have easily been another major deterrent to make Pico feel like he was constantly taking one step forward and two steps back in his career.

Don’t expect Pico to accept that as his narrative, however, because he’s confident that a win in his upcoming fight will put him right back where he wants to be in the featherweight division.

In fact, Pico expects to finally live up to all those expectations heaped on his shoulders before he ever had a single professional fight with designs on claiming a championship before the year is over.

“I don’t feel anything is different,” Pico said. “I’m still on the path to be a world champion. In 2023, I wholeheartedly believe I will have that belt wrapped around my waist. I true believe that and that’s what I’m working for. One step at a time. I believe I will be a world champion this year.”



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