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Losing to Aaron Pico pushed Bellator 219’s Shane Kruchten to ‘a dark place,’ but he’s back

Shane Kruchten officially has been a Bellator fighter for more than 15 months. His total fight time, though, officially adds up to 37 seconds. That’s how long it took Aaron Pico to knock out Kruchten in his first and only promotional appearance.

The win brought Pico’s Bellator record to 2-1 and served as fuel to the hype that had briefly been halted with a loss in his pro MMA debut. Images of the knockout made highlight reels and headlines, with words like “demolished” or “disintegrated” used to describe the effects of that body shot on Kruchten’s liver.

For Pico, it would be the start of a perfect 2018 in the cage. Kruchten, however, went down a much different path.

“I was in a dark spot,” Kruchten told MMA Junkie. “I was too much limelight-hungry, if you would. I was all about me, me, me. And the loss pushed me into a dark place with my PTSD I already suffer from, from the military. It pushed me into a deep depression.”

But then there was the other side of it.

Kruchten (12-4 MMA, 0-1 BMMA) returns Friday at Bellator 219 against former champion Daniel Straus (28-9 MMA, 11-5 BMMA) after taking some time to heal in more ways than one. Physically, Krutchen took care of old injuries that he’d brought into his debut. Mentally, it was time that Kruchten needed to do “a lot of growing up.”

“The loss kind of put a cherry on top of my downfall, my self-demise,” Kruchten said. “But, at the same time, it opened my eyes in ways I could have never imagined. I’ve spoken to Aaron since then. I was in his locker room in San Jose. I went in there and shook his dad’s hand. I shook his hand, congratulated him on his win and just thanked him.

“He’s a great kid. I wish nothing but the best, and I see a bright future. At the end of the day, we were opponents, and there’s no animosity between me and him. He took the best of me that night, and it is what it is.”

There were a few factors behind this eye-opening experience. One was Kruchten’s ex – and current – fiancee, whom he’d pushed away during those dark times. They train together, and it was because of her that Kruchten was pushed to get back to the gym and “be a better person.” She was also the one who, last May, delivered some tough but much-needed words.

“She told me, ‘Listen, if you don’t pull your head out of your rear-end, you’re going to die alone. And nobody’s going to back you,’” Kruchten said. “’You’ve got the best backing in the world; you need to cease the moment and go with it.’ And I really took that to heart.”

Kruchten also reconnected with what had long been his passion and therapy but had taken kind of a backburner: the jiu-jitsu gi. Kruchten also made sure to surround himself with the right people, who “have no worries to call me out on my B.S.,” and made moves to make sure his second Bellator opportunity doesn’t go to waste.

“I disassociated from everything at my hometown,” Kruchten said. “I’ve completely moved state, camp (Kruchten is at The MMA Lab in Arizona). I’ve shut down my company for two months to come out here and train here and do it the right way. Do training the way it’s meant to be and remove all distractions from my life.”

After facing a hot prospect in Pico, Kruchten has yet another high-profile foe in front of him Friday, this time a former two-time champion and well known Bellator veteran. More than that, though, he’s got an opponent who also had to deal with his fair share of adversity in order to make it back to the cage.

Straus suffered a near-fatal motorcycle accident in December 2017. At the time, doctors wondered whether Straus would even be able to walk normally – if at all – again, let alone fight other people in a cage. Friday’s co-headliner, which will take place at lightweight despite the fact both fighters usually compete at 145, will be Straus’ return from the ordeal.

Kruchten is the same age as Straus (34) and, in fact, had his pro MMA debut  before the former champion had his. But, with almost half the number of fights on his record, he reacted to Straus’ accident as a fan would react to hearing bad news about someone he’d long admired.

“I was devastated as a fight fan, as a big Straus fan, as a featherweight,” Kruchten said. “I was devastated. Here’s this legend that just got hurt. I remember being devastated for him and because I was scared for him, on a personal level, due to thinking he was going to go in a dark spot. I was just praying that he would take the right steps and come out on top of the situation and make the best of it.”

Which, Kruchten added, Straus did. But his admiration for the former champion isn’t just as a fighter. Kruchten also is a father to a daughter whom he’d do anything for, “as I know Daniel does for his daughter.” And, as a veteran who had his own brush with death “at a very young” age in Iraq, Kruchten remembers how hearing about Straus taking his first steps resonated with him.

“Coming now, on March 29th, is one month to the day prior to my 15-year alive day that I was hurt in Iraq,” Kruchten said. “To overcome all this adversity this deep into my career, and be able to overcome obstacles, I was only hoping for the best for Daniel. And then, I never knew he was going to fight again. And when I got the phone call I was like, ‘All right.’”

Clearly, there’s no shortage of respect here. But acknowledging he’ll have a “formidable” opponent standing across from him at Pechanga Resort Casino in Temecula, Calif., doesn’t change the fact that that’s ultimately what Straus is to Kruchten: an opponent.

And now, with the right team and proper preparation behind him, it’s an opponent that Kruchten is confident he has the tools to beat.

“I’m glad to welcome him back to the sport of martial arts, but I’m also glad to help him leave the sport,” Kruchten said. “And that’s not a disrespect thing. That’s a, ‘Hey, this is the new guard’s time.’ And I’m ready to send the old guard out. Other than that, there’s no bad blood.

“I don’t hold any ill will toward Daniel. I’m empathetic toward his recovery; that’s amazing. I have nothing but respect for him. But it’s my time.”

For more on Bellator 219, visit the MMA Rumors section of the site.

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