For as much as Whittier-reared mixed martial arts featherweights Aaron Pico and Henry Corrales have in common, there is much to differentiate them as they prepare to square off as part of Saturday’s Bellator MMA card at the Forum.
Pico, 22, is a proud ancestor of the last California governor under Mexican rule, Pio de Jesus Pico. He attended private Bellflower St. John Bosco High and devoted his teen years to wrestling, traveling internationally to fight against men.
Corrales, 32, attended public La Mirada High and never played prep sports.
What was he doing? In a recent interview, a bare-chested Corrales exhaled for an extended time, thinking how best to answer, his decorative chest tattoo of a caged lion prominently exposed.
“The dark hearts brought me to the martial arts, baby,” he said. “I was just being a clown, an undisciplined … chump. Different backgrounds. Different people. Different circles. It happens.”
Corrales (16-3) is on a four-fight winning streak with two knockouts dating to his 2016 loss to current Bellator featherweight champion Patricio “Pitbull” Freire, earning Saturday’s co-main event shot at Bellator’s prized prospect.
“I’m pumped, looking forward to this one. It’s everything I’ve worked for,” Corrales said. “He brings the noise, so let’s dance.”
Pico (4-1) also has won four in a row, all by first-round knockout.
“I love fighting for the knockout,” Pico said. “That’s what people remember and I want them to remember: ‘Pico could do it all and he knocked a lot of people out.’ [Corrales’] fighting style type is brawler. People underestimate my quickness until they see those punches snap in the four-ounce gloves … it’s really crazy. It’s too much power.”
Pico said he trained in boxing with several notable amateurs, and one of his cornermen is seven-time boxing trainer of the year Freddie Roach, who says that he is convinced Pico will become a distinguished pro boxer one day.
“I feel really comfortable on my feet now, as comfortable as I feel in wrestling,” Pico said, which is saying something given his international pedigree. “Make no mistake that I’m going to get boxing fights. … When, is a good question, but I’m capable, with that mentality to stay in the gym. It keeps me focused, keeps me in shape and gets me one step closer to becoming the best fighter on the planet. It’s not going to be a side show for me, a one-off. I want to make a real impact in boxing and feel I can do that.”
First, he has to confront the skill of Corrales, who won his first six fights by submission and brings the type of street cred that Pico doesn’t seem interested in pursuing.
Pico has dated the same girl for eight years and devotes his time to training, riding his horse each morning and caring for his two Australian Cattle dogs.
“People ask me about the pressure and the success,” Pico said. “I’m surrounded by good, strong people right now — my brother, dad, girlfriend, my horses and dogs. I’m not saying I have my life in order, but I have a good understanding of what I want out of life, and that’s my horse ranch and to have kids at a young age.
“The more successful I can be and the more championships I can win, the faster I can become a father and get married. I don’t want Lamborghinis or this crazy stuff. Sincerely, I want a horse ranch and a family.”
Pico says he has gotten his hair cut at the same MJS Barbershop on La Mirada Boulevard for eight years now, occasionally encountering Corrales’ relatives.
Asked if he goes there too, Corrales flashed a bit of a stink eye indicating that his preferred barbershop, Chop Shop in La Mirada, is more authentic.
He expressed respect for the cage work of the younger phenom.
“Pico’s highlight-reeling these guys,” Corrales said, “and his amateur credentials make it justified. Nothing personal against anybody … I’m trying to put all of them in their place.”
Saturday’s fight, Corrales said, serves as a great opportunity to lure more of the Latino combat sports fan base to MMA one week after Los Angeles native Henry Cejudo successfully defended his UFC flyweight belt against bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw.
“Mexicans love to fight,” Corrales said. “It’s in their blood. And even if they’re not expressing being fans of MMA, those [guys] are watching all the … fights. Maybe all of the knowledge isn’t there because of the generations before them watching boxing, but they’re absorbing the knowledge.”