A look toward future in MMA
Southland’s Larkin and Pico will have a presence at Bellator event in New York.
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.”
LORENZ LARKIN, left, faces John Howard in a UFC bout in 2015. Larkin will make his Bellator debut against welterweight champion Douglas Lima.