Bellator NYC Recap: Aaron Pico's pro debut ends in disaster, 24-second submission loss

Aaron Pico lost quickly in his professional MMA debut, losing in the first round by submission to Zach Freeman at Bellator NYC. AP Photo/Gregory Payan

NEW YORK -- There are no guarantees in the fight game. Bellator's prized prospect, 20-year-old Aaron Pico, learned that the hard way on Saturday.

Making his professional mixed martial arts debut at Bellator: NYC, Pico (0-1) suffered a 24-second defeat at the hands of 33-year-old Zach Freeman. The lightweight fight took place inside Madison Square Garden.

Freeman (9-2) staggered Pico with a right uppercut in the opening exchange. The wrestling phenom dropped to his knees and immediately reached for Freeman's leg in an effort to grapple. Freeman seized on the opportunity by falling back into a guillotine choke. It is the sixth time Freeman has won via submission.

It's nothing short of a disastrous debut for Pico, who signed with Bellator MMA in 2014 shortly after his 18th birthday. He didn't fight during the first two years of the deal because he was trying to make the 2016 U.S. Olympic wrestling team. He made it to the finals of the Olympic Trials in 2016, before ultimately losing by one point.

Fighting out of Los Angles, Pico was considered a heavy favorite. While Pico was signed at an early age and groomed for stardom, Freeman, who'd never fought for Bellator prior to Saturday, spoke about his day job during the buildup to the fight.

Freeman, of St. Charles, Missouri, picks up his first win since March 2015.

Chandler suffers ankle injury, loses title

The Bellator lightweight championship changed hands on Saturday, behind an unfortunate ankle injury suffered by now-former champion Michael Chandler.

Massive underdog Brent Primus claimed the 155-pound title at 2:22 of the opening round, when he picked up a TKO (injury) victory. Referee Todd Anderson was forced to stop the fight after it became clear Chandler couldn't stand on his lead left leg.

Chandler (16-4) attempted to fight through the injury, and even dropped Primus (8-0) briefly with a perfectly timed right hand counter. Primus popped back up though, and Chandler's injury become even more evident as he chased him across the cage.

It is Chandler's first loss since he slipped to an 0-3 skid between 2013 and 2014. The Missouri native won the title in a sensational knockout over Patricky Freire in June 2016 and defended it once prior to Saturday.

Primus, of Portland, improves to 6-0 under the Bellator banner.

Lima records first title defense against Bellator newcomer Larkin

Douglas Lima (29-6) recorded the first defense of his welterweight title, outpointing Lorenz Larkin (18-6) in a five round fight (50-45, 48-47 and 48-47).

While it wasn't the barnburner some expected, the bout did see fireworks in the second round -- and it cemented Lima as one of the best welterweights in the world. The 29-year-old Brazilian champ will face former UFC title contender Rory MacDonald in his next defense.

Making his Bellator debut, Larkin appeared to have a speed advantage on Lima and tried to make the most of it, but Lima's striking was simply too sharp. After eating a left hook in the second round, Lima came roaring back with a left hand of his own that dropped Larkin to the canvas. He tried to follow up with punches on the ground, but Larkin managed to survive.

That sequence might have prompted Larkin to take a more cautious approach in the third. He tried to move in and out and use his speed to score points, but Lima still landed the heavier strikes. He ripped Larkin to the body with a front kick and scored a clean right cross.

Going into Saturday, Larkin had won four of five as a UFC welterweight. He signed with Bellator in March. Lima is now 11-2 in the Bellator cage.

Ryan Bader claims title in Bellator debut

History repeated itself for Ryan Bader on Saturday -- only this time it resulted in Bellator gold.

Bader (23-5) claimed the Bellator 205-pound championship by defeating Phil Davis (17-4) via split decision (49-46, 49-46, 47-48). The two fought to the exact same result in a three-round UFC fight in 2015.

The bout was awkward and far from thrilling, as the two former collegiate wrestlers canceled each other out from a grappling perspective. Outside of a handful of hard shots -- several right hands for Bader, a Superman punch by Davis -- it was a tentative back and forth. Referee Dan Miragliotta actually warned both for lack of offense during the fourth round.

Overall it was Bader's boxing that seemed to win him the fight. The Arizona native paced Davis with the jab and bloodied his face late with punches. Davis let fly several high roundhouse kicks that Bader managed to duck safely under.

The fight was originally supposed to feature Bader against Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal, but Lawal was forced out because of an injury. The loss halts Davis' title reign on his very first attempted defense. The San Diego-based fighter won the belt by defeating Liam McGeary in November.

Bader, who signed with Bellator in March, has now won eight of nine. Davis suffers his first defeat since the first loss to Bader more than two years ago.

Featherweight prospect James Gallagher dominates U.S. debut

Making his U.S. debut, Irish featherweight James Gallagher (7-0) came up large in a first-round submission over Chinzo Machida (5-3).

Gallagher, 20, tapped Machida with a rear-naked choke just 2:22 into the fight. The actual finish was just the icing on the cake, of what turned into a dominant performance start to finish. Gallagher landed a clean counter right early, caught a leg kick, secured a takedown and moved straight into full mount.

Machida, the older brother of former UFC champion Lyoto, gave up his back and succumbed to the choke moments later.

Gallagher, an SBG Ireland stablemate of Conor McGregor, improves to 4-0 in Bellator, with three submission wins. Machida, who fights out of Los Angeles, saw the end of a four-fight win streak.

Pro boxer Heather Hardy scintillating in MMA debut

Undefeated professional boxer Heather Hardy (1-0 MMA, 20-0 boxing) ignited the New York crowd with a fantastic third-round TKO victory over Alice Yauger (4-6).

The finish had style points for days. With less than two minutes left in the flyweight fight, Hardy dropped Yauger in the center of the cage with a right hand.

Rather than follow her to the floor, Hardy remained motionless and waited for Yauger to stand. When she did, Hardy blitzed forward with punches.

Referee John McCarthy waved it off at the 4:47 mark, handing Hardy her first MMA win. The finish came shortly after Hardy suffered a cut over her left eye from an accidental headbutt.

Hardy, 35, is promoted by Lou DiBella and has been non-committal on her MMA future. This performance probably doesn't hurt the chances of a second fight.