Aaron Pico in the 2016 Olympic Team Trials (photo courtesy of Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
The UFC event on Saturday is uncharacteristically light on former wrestlers, but that is not the case for the Bellator show on the same night. The card will feature several former college wrestlers and one rather famous world medalist. Another world medalist already fought this week, but the fight proved to be a struggle. Check out the results from that bout as well as a preview of the wrestlers on this weekend's Bellator show.
Thursday: ONE Championship 161
Ritu Phogat vs. Tiffany Teo
On Thursday in Singapore, ONE Championship got an early start to the weekend. The card featured the return of Ritu Phogat against Tiffany Teo. Phogat was a gold medalist at the 2016 Commonwealth Championships and a silver medalist at the 2017 World U23 Championships, and she is also one of the famous Phogat sisters who represent India on the international scene. Her sister Sangeeta is also married to Olympic medalist Bajrang Punia.
While she did have some success with her wrestling in this fight, she was not able to pull out the victory. Teo locked on a rear-naked choke and finished via submission with eight seconds left in the first round. With the loss, Phogat falls to 7-3 in MMA.
Saturday: Bellator 286
AJ McKee vs. Spike Carlyle
As the son of UFC veteran Antonio McKee, it was expected that AJ would eventually fight MMA, but he still came up through the wrestling ranks. In high school, he was a CIF Southern Sectional champion for Long Beach Poly. He then spent time in college at both Notre Dame College and Cerritos College. While at Cerritos, he won a CCCA state championship.
McKee will need that wrestling against Spike Carlyle. Although Carlyle left the UFC in 2020 after going only 1-2 in the promotion, he averaged 3.34 takedowns per 15 minutes of fight time. Since leaving the promotion, he has gone on a five-fight win streak that pushed his record to 14-3. This will be McKee's first fight since losing the Bellator featherweight title back to Patricio â€œPitbullâ€ Freire as well as his first fight at lightweight.
Aaron Pico vs. Jeremy Kennedy
After going 4-3 in his first seven MMA fights, Aaron Pico, the former wrestling phenom, has appeared to hit his stride in the sport. He is currently riding a six-fight winning streak that dates back to 2020. With that being said, Jeremy Kennedy likely represents his toughest test since 2019.
Pico skipped college and went directly into his MMA career after excelling in freestyle wrestling. He won a gold medal at the 2013 Cadet World Championships and was a two-time world medalist on the Junior level. In 2016, he made the finals of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials, but came up short against Frank Molinaro in a three-match series.
From 2016-2018, Kennedy went 3-1 in the UFC with his only loss coming against current UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski. After leaving the promotion, he signed with Bellator in 2020. So far in his new home, he has split a pair of victories over Matt Bessette and Emmanuel Sanchez around a loss to Adam Borics, who also defeated Pico.
Juan Archuleta vs. Enrique Barzola
This fight features yet another former wrestler who will likely need to rely on his background to earn a victory. Archuleta was a two-time CCCA champion for Sacramento City College before transferring to Purdue. As a junior for the Boilermakers, he finished fourth in the Big Ten and qualified for the NCAA tournament. He has been fighting exclusively for Bellator since 2018 and has gone 7-3. However, he enters this fight after back-to-back losses.
Enrique Barzola did not come up wrestling, but it is a big part of his approach to fighting. He fought 10 times in the UFC from 2015 to 2020. During that time, he averaged 4.20 takedowns per 15 minutes. After leaving the UFC and joining Bellator, he has gone 2-1 with a victory over NCAA champion Darrion Caldwell.
Max Rohskopf vs. Mike Hamel
After starting his career with five-straight wins, Max Rohskopf took a short-notice fight against Austin Hubbard in the UFC. The former North Carolina State wrestler had a lot of success early, but he faded and bowed out of the fight after two rounds. Following the loss, he was released from the promotion. He has since bounced back with a pair of wins.
Rohskopf was a two-time NCAA qualifier for the Wolfpack during his collegiate days. As a junior in 2016, he defeated John Staudenmayer and David McFadden to win the ACC tournament at 165 pounds.
Mike Hamels currently holds a 9-5 record as a professional. He signed with Bellator in 2020 and dropped his first two matches with the promotion. However, Hamels has bounced back with wins over Bryce Logan and Killys Mota.
Rohskopf's bout will be part of the preliminary card that airs live on YouTube at 7:00pm ET, while the rest of the wrestlers will compete on the main card. That portion of the card is scheduled for Showtime at 10:00pm ET.