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Bellator 206’s Leandro Higo: I’m the ‘first real test’ of Aaron Pico’s career

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Bantamweight contender Leandro Higo talks about his move to featherweight to take on rising Bellator star Aaron Pico.

Among the many intriguing fights on the Bellator 206 lineup this Saturday is a featherweight clash between rising phenom Aaron Pico and Leandro Higo. The 22-year-old Pico has been touted as one of the best prospects in MMA history, and after a shocking loss to Zach Freeman in his pro debut, the former wrestling standout has rattled off three consecutive first-round knockouts.

On the other side is Higo, a former LFA champion and recent Bellator bantamweight title challenger who trains at “Pitbull Brothers” gym alongside the famed Patricky and Patricio Freire, with the latter holding Bellator’s featherweight title. In a recent interview with Bloody Elbow, the Brazilian contender explained his decision to move up in weight, and his plans for going back to bantamweight at some point.

“I wanted to fight soon and told Bellator 145 would be possible, as there aren’t many options at 135 and they seemed to have a harder time booking me,” Higo said. “I wanna see how I feel in this fight and take it from there, but getting that 135 belt is a matter of honor. I’ve had two opportunities and didn’t make it. So alternating divisions in order to remain active and at the same time get closer to the Bantamweight belt is what’s on my mind right now, but we’ll see.”

The 29-year-old has a professional record of 18-4 and is by far the highest caliber opponent Pico has faced in his young career. Higo may have fewer pro bouts than Lee Morrison, Pico’s most recent foe, but he’s fought a higher level of competition, including current UFC fighter Steven Peterson, plus former champ Eduardo Dantas and current bantamweight king Darrion Caldwell.

What does Higo think of all of the hype surrounding Pico? He understands why he’s been heavily pushed, but does note the quality of competition he’s faced to this point.

“Everyone knows Bellator wants to turn Pico in a future star and they’re preparing him to become a champion,” Higo said. “The press is all over him too. He has a world championship in wrestling and a boxing background, so there were valid reasons for the hype. But although he’s been having great performances, I don’t want to say this as a disrespect to his opponents, but they weren’t meaningful fights. The best opposition he had, he was dropped and submitted in a few seconds.

“I’m his first real test,” Higo added. “I’ll be going in there to try and impose my game, my will. He’s having success while his opponents aren’t fighting back, I’ll be different. Winning this fight means everything to me. I’m fighting with everything on the line.”

Higo is a sizable underdog according to the betting odds, but an upset win would not only improve his Bellator record to 2-2, it could lead to higher profile matchups on the road back to a title shot. Who does he have in mind to call out if he beats Pico? Well a host of names that range from a former champion to other rising Bellator stars.

“I have much respect for what Joe Warren accomplished and looking at the state of the Bantamweight division right now, he’s a guy I would like to face,” Higo said. “A win over him would get me closer to the title. At 145, I want to test myself against the top guys. AJ McKee would be an interesting fight. I would also like to slap James Gallagher, even though he lost, he talked too much crap before and he seems to be still very arrogant. So I’d like to humble him in Dublin in front of his fans. But before all that I have to get past this fight. So first focus on the target ahead of me, then I’ll sit down with my team and Bellator and analyze the future.”

Bellator 206 is considered by many to be one of the hugest shows the promotion has ever put together, and Higo is elated to be on the main card alongside one of his favorite fighters of all-time.

“I’m very happy to be fighting on such a great card,” Higo said. “I got to meet one of my idols yesterday, Wanderlei Silva, at the hotel. It was amazing. I got even more excited to fight on the same card as him. Winning this fight and on a card people say is the biggest in Bellator history will do great things for my future.”

You can catch Bellator 206 live and exclusively on the DAZN streaming service, starting at 10 PM ET/7 PM PT. The main event is a champ vs. champ clash between welterweight champion Rory MacDonald, who is moving up to middleweight to face titleholder Gegard Mousasi.