At Bellator 286, featherweight contender Aaron Pico will have another opportunity to establish his mettle.

With high expectations bearing down on him from the start, Aaron Pico has struggled. The skilled freestyle wrestler was one of the most anticipated prospects the sport had ever seen, but nothing can replace the value of experience, no matter how much potential there may be.

At Bellator 180 in 2017, Pico was anticipated to dominate local fighter Zach Freeman in his professional MMA debut. The conclusion was quite different as Freeman seized a guillotine choke that ended the battle in just 24 seconds, shattering the mountain of expectations. Pico was given another chance against tougher opposition after starting over and succeeding at featherweight with four straight knockout victories.

Pico lost to Henry Corrales, who was 16-3 at the time, in a nasty knockout in the first round. Pico came to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to team with JacksonWink MMA to correct some of the weaknesses that had caused him problems in his early defeats after beginning his career under the instruction of Freddie Roach to round out his striking to go along with his tremendous wrestling abilities. Later that year, upon his return, he lost to Adam Borics by knockout once more.

“I believe I had all the necessary components to succeed. I was merely unprepared. I believe they simply outperformed me. It wasn’t like I was getting my ass kicked for three rounds in those battles and lost because I was outmatched. I was merely discovered. If you look at the struggle between the Borics, I was completely in control. I knocked Corrales to the ground and became overly greedy, “Informed CBS Sports, Pico. “Just a lack of experience, in my opinion. I did not then possess the knowledge I do now. I’m completely cool with it. I became the fighter I am now as a result of it. It surrounded me with kind individuals who I now had on my side. I genuinely am grateful for the losses.”

Following the defeats of the Corrales and Borics, Pico began his career against less skilled opponents. The 26-year-old has won six straight matches, five of which were decided by sudden death.

“I believe I’m making progress. Even though I still have a long way to go in terms of development, I’ve come a long way. In the end, you desire it. “You don’t lose, you learn,” is a common adage. Given that I did learn, I really take that to heart. I believe that through recovering, I shown my ability.”

At Bellator 286 on Saturday, Patricio Pitbull, the divisional champion, will take on Pico’s former adversary Borics while Pico will face Jeremy Kennedy. A victory against Kennedy, whose sole defeat in a four-fight UFC career came at the hands of current featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski, validates Pico and his training staff’s efforts to develop a fighter capable of challenging for the title, even if Pico doesn’t feel that way.

Pico responded, “I don’t feel that way because every battle I take is the most significant fight of my life. “If I face off against Adli Edwards, it will be the most significant fight of my life because I must advance. Every match is a world championship match for me.

Simply put, that’s how I see it. I train the same way every time. For instance, if I were to fight you, I would prepare the same way I would prepare to face [Patricio] Pitbull.

If Pico prevails in Long Beach, California on Saturday night, he will be among the top contenders at featherweight. It might be the middle stop on a world title run that Pico is certain will occur the following year.