When Bellator 214 was first announced for January 26 at the Forum, local MMA fans had a serious question to ask themselves. Do they go to the relatively underpowered UFC 233 at the Honda Center or see one of the greatest fighters of all time — albeit well past his prime — when Fedor Emelianenko headlines the stacked Bellator card against UFC vet Ryan Bader in the finale of their heavyweight grand prix?
Thankfully, that decision was made for them as UFC 233 was scrapped, allowing the mixed martial arts world to watch the Bellator card without interruption.
After losing its co-main event bout in which the legendary Gegard Mousasi would’ve defended his middleweight championship belt against Rafael Lovato Jr., Bellator 214 filled in the gaps with some of the most exciting local fighters on its roster. With fast-rising locals like featherweight Aaron Pico and bantamweight Juan Archuleta both looking to put themselves within reach of a title with a victory, Saturday’s card has become a substantial showcase of local talent for the global audience that will be watching in-person and on TV.
“We’ve got some guys out here in SoCal who are making a really big impact in the MMA community and making waves in Bellator,” Archuleta says, ahead of a likely title eliminator fight against Ricky Bandejas. “For us to be coming up together, it speaks volumes for sure. We’re all right there, ready to put the strap around our waists.”
“It’s crazy, because [Archuleta] has a big fight in front of him, and I have a big fight in front of me, and we’re both in a great position to fight for a world title,” Pico adds. “It’s a big night for us and for our careers. All I can say is that we’ve done all the work and put in everything that we possibly could to prepare for that night. It’s going to be a great night.”
For Pico, the co-main event matchup against Henry Corrales may not get him a shot at the featherweight championship ahead of people like his training partner A.J, McKee, but it will be a chance for the 22-year-old boxing champion to make a highlight reel-worthy statement against a tough opponent for the fifth time in six professional MMA fights.
“He’s a guy who likes to stand on his feet and throw punches, and so am I,” Pico says. “He’s on a four-fight win streak. I’m on a four-fight win streak with four knockouts. When you put that together, you’ve got a recipe for a great fight.”
Given Pico’s history in boxing, wrestling, and Pankration ever since he was a child, the young combat sports veteran has a very different approach to life than most of his peers. While many other young fighters get caught up in the lifestyle that goes along with prizefighting — or at least try to build their brand outside of the cage on social media — you won’t see much on Pico’s Instagram other than the hours he puts in at the gym each day. Putting on entertaining fights isn’t just the Whittier native’s chosen career, it’s his sole focus.
“The best thing of all is when people pay money to watch you fight, and that’s something I don’t take for granted,” Pico says. “People tell me that it seems like all I do is train, but the reason I do that is because I want people to come watch me fight and I want to win a world title. I don’t have time to do much else. That’s why my social media and such is pretty much all me training,. That’s all I do, and that’s why I’m in the position I’m in right now.”
For the equally-dedicated Archuleta, this weekend’s fight is more than just a chance for the former King of the Cage champion to improve to 22-1. It’s a chance to prove he’s worthy of fighting for the bantamweight belt and an opportunity to derail his opponent’s hype train after Bandejas had his own star-making performance when he knocked out the undefeated (and talkative) James Gallagher back in August. But above everything else, Bellator 214 also allows “The Spaniard” to add his own notch to one of his favorite venue’s legacy.
“It’s definitely a dream come true,” Archuleta says of fighting at the Forum. “I’m a huge Laker fan, so I’ve watched the Lakers put on great performances there — plus the great boxing fights, MMA fights, and a bunch of great performances there when I was a kid like Disney On Ice and Marvel On Ice — and now I get to go perform there. It makes it worth that much more with all of the training that I’m doing.”
Josh Chesler used to play baseball for some pretty cool teams, but now he just writes about awesome stuff like tattoos, music, MMA and sneakers. He enjoys injuring himself by skateboarding, training for fights, and playing musical instruments in his off time.