A look to­ward fu­ture in MMA

South­land’s Larkin and Pico will have a pres­ence at Bel­la­tor event in New York.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Lance Pug­mire lance.pug­mire@la­times.com Twit­ter: @la­time­spug­mire

NEW YORK — Scott Coker is a wise enough pro­moter to know that Bel­la­tor MMA can cash in by pre­sent­ing some of the fi­nal work of vet­eran fight­ers such as Fe­dor Emelia­nenko, Chael Son­nen and Wan­der­lei Silva.

Yet the man who found a slew of young fight­ers who ul­ti­mately be­came UFC cham­pi­ons also un­der­stands that the fu­ture must be cul­ti­vated.

That’s why he has placed South­land prod­ucts Lorenz Larkin and Aaron Pico on the first pay-per-view broad­cast he has su­per­vised for the Vi­a­com-owned com­pany, a card to be staged at Madi­son Square Gar­den on Satur­day night.

They are both on the card of Bel­la­tor NYC, with Son­nen ver­sus Silva as the main event.

“These are the fights the hard-core fans want to see,” he said of River­side’s Larkin, who will be mak­ing his Bel­la­tor de­but against wel­ter­weight cham­pion Dou­glas Lima, and Whit­tier light­weight Pico, who will be mak­ing his much-hyped pro de­but against Zach Free­man.

“Yes, Fe­dor, Chael and Wan­der­lei will be watched, but the talk on­line is Loren­zLima and Aaron’s de­but.” With good rea­son. Larkin, 30, was on a 4-1 run af­ter de­feat­ing Neil Magny on the UFC 202 un­der­card in Au­gust, but his con­tract then ex­pired and he said he wasn’t con­tacted by the UFC dur­ing the first five months of his free-agent ne­go­ti­at­ing win­dow.

“Re­spect goes a long way with me. I wanted to feel like I was a value to the com­pany,” Larkin said. “Oth­er­wise, if you’re putting in the work and noth­ing’s hap­pen­ing, what’s the point?”

“That’s what it re­ally boiled down to. I started out with Scott in [the MMA or­ga­ni­za­tion] Strikeforce and it was al­ways a good re­la­tion­ship, and I def­i­nitely feel like I’m an as­set. I’ve been mar­keted more with Bel­la­tor than I was [with UFC], and I haven’t even fought yet. It’s a com­plete 180.”

In Brazil’s Lima, Larkin con­fronts a cham­pion who avenged a loss by de­ci­sion to An­drey Kore­shkov in 2015 with a third-round knock­out last Novem­ber.

Coker calls his wel­ter­weight sta­ble bet­ter than the UFC’s, with for­mer UFC ti­tle chal­lenger Rory MacDon­ald, un­beaten Michael Page and vet­eran Paul Da­ley in con­tention.

MacDon­ald gets the win­ner of Lima-Larkin, Coker said.

“I’ve al­ready fought some of the best guys, so just another win doesn’t re­ally move me in the divi­sion,” Larkin said. “This fight, I get the belt and can say I’m at the top of the divi­sion. Lima has come back af­ter los­ing his belt to win it by a knock­out. That says a lot. Now, for me, it’s not just, ‘I’m in the mix with a win.…’ I’ve had enough tune­ups al­ready.”

UFC light-heavy­weight cham­pion Daniel Cormier has la­beled Pico the best prospect at his AKA gym in San Jose. Others peo­ple say he’s MMA’s most cer­tain fu­ture great.

Coker said he was told by MMA vet­eran coach Bob Cook at AKA that Pico will be pre­pared to de­feat Bel­la­tor cham­pion Michael Chan­dler a year from now.

Pico was so gifted a wrestler at Bellflower St. John Bosco High that he quit af­ter his fresh­man year and left to wres­tle grown men in East­ern Europe and other for­eign des­ti­na­tions.

“I’ve been wrestling since 4, be­fore I was ty­ing my shoes,” Pico said. “Wrestling is the best foun­da­tion in MMA.”

He’s also de­vel­oped into an ef­fec­tive striker through years of box­ing les­sons. “If I can stand on my feet, how can I be beaten?” Pico said. “I like be­ing on my feet. I love strik­ing. I can take them down, but why? I can knock them down.”

Coker said his com­pany’s at­ten­tion to de­vel­op­ing tal­ent is based on find­ing young fight­ers and pay­ing them well.

“I think we’re very good star iden­ti­fiers and star builders and Aaron is the heir ap­par­ent,” Coker said. “In this sport, you need the brand names, the mid­dle of the ros­ter, but then you also need the young stars.

“We go find ’em, and we go pay ’em. We know this is the fu­ture. We will search high and low for some­one to make a dif­fer­ence.”

Gregory Payan As­so­ci­ated Press

LORENZ LARKIN, left, faces John Howard in a UFC bout in 2015. Larkin will make his Bel­la­tor de­but against wel­ter­weight cham­pion Dou­glas Lima.

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