Marine veteran Shane Kruchten has lost one fight in 10 years, has a 12-3 mark as a mixed martial arts professional, and won his last bout, on the last day of 2016, in Madison Square Garden.
So when the Purple Heart recipient saw oddsmakers had labeled him a heavy underdog in his 145-pound clash Saturday against 21-year-old Aaron Pico as part of a nationally televised Bellator card, he called it “almost comical.”
“A lot of people would be nervous, or take that as an insult,” Kruchten told Military Times on Thursday. “I take it as though they’re taking all the pressure off me. ... All the pressure’s on this kid to perform, and he doesn’t know the fight he has in his face. He doesn’t know the type of fighter I am, and he says that anything I can throw he’s already had thrown at him, which is highly unlikely.
“And also, yeah, you can get elbows and knees thrown at you at the gym, with pads. Wait ‘till one hits you that’s unpadded. It’s a whole different world.”
Kruchten last fought Dec. 31, 2016, defeating fellow Marine veteran Jeremy Mahon via unanimous decision in New York City as part of a World Series of Fighting card. The fight ended a nearly three-year layoff for Kruchten, who was under a WSOF contract but received “limited opportunities” to return to that group’s cage.
He requested a release from the group, which has since rebranded, and got it. Then came the chance with Bellator, where he’ll fight Pico in the famous Forum in Inglewood, California (just outside Los Angeles) on the first card to air on the new Paramount Network (formerly Spike TV). While the card takes place the same night as a UFC pay-per-view event, it doesn’t hurt for name recognition: Chael Sonnen will face Quinton “Rampage” Jackson in a heavyweight tournament clash.
Pico, a world-class freestyle wrestler, debuted as a highly touted Bellator prospect in June and was choked out in 24 seconds. He recovered with a knockout win in September.
“I never really prepare for any fighter in particular,” said Kruchten, who fights under the nickname “The War Rhino.” “I like to implement my game plan. … I think I’ve watched Aaron fight, maybe once, and that was on the live broadcast. Past that, I haven’t seen him. And I don’t really care.
“Nothing that he throws, literally, I have not seen.”
The Marine veteran, who fights out of San Diego, said he’ll have a large fan base on hand. He may have picked up a few new fans via social media this week, when an interaction with a homeless man turned into a viral video:
Kruchten said he wasn’t sure why he drove to the out-of-the-way gas station the morning he filmed the video, but when he got there, “the poor man is eating out of a trash can, he has no shoes on, it’s cold outside … and I go, ‘What in the world is he doing?’”
“I set up the camera originally as a protection for myself, just in case he were to attack me or anything were to happen. It wasn’t a glorification thing,” the fighter said. “And I get out of my car. I had a brand-new pair of Nikes, I paid over $200 the day before … I got out and I asked him what size shoe he wore. He said 11, and I had 11½ in the car.”
The man asked for a blanket. Kruchten didn’t have one, so he gave him some workout gear. The video of the interaction had more than 14,000 views on Facebook as of Thursday evening.
“I posted it just to show people, listen, you can have a heart — it doesn’t matter how much of a goofball you are, you have to have a heart for your fellow human,” he said. “And it took off, went viral. It kind of surprised me.”
Saturday’s main fight card begins at 9 p.m. Eastern on Paramount Network.