"I miss this. I'm ready" - Yaroslav Amosov returns from war to defend title at Bellator 291
"We were driving 36 hours without sleep, because we wanted to save our family."
Two days before Bellator 291, at the 3Arena, Yaroslav Amosov fronted up for an emotional media event, visibly upset about the situation his home country still finds itself in today.
Friday marked exactly one year since the start of the Russian invasion into Ukraine, and the bloody, brutal war that followed. Luis Eisemann and Marius van Zyl report from that Bellator media event about a man fighting for much more than a world title.
'My number one priority is to save my family and my people'
After the Russian Invasion began, on the 24th of February 2022, Yaroslav Amosov had to put aside his MMA carrier to head back to his home country, to defend it.
Although we may know him as a fighter, there he is first and foremost a father and husband to a family he loves. Asked if he wants to be a media representative of Ukraine, he was certain and emphatic: "Yes, I want to talk about this situation, because I think many people don’t understand what is happening there."
To try and paint the picture for those of us in the room, Amosov asks us to imagine being in our homes and asleep when, at 4am, huge shelling commences and explosions bombard your home town, with the very walls of your house reverberating and screams ringing out, near and far.
The 29-year-old, who will fight for the undisputed Bellator welterweight title against Logan Storley (the interim champ), first became champion in 2021 when he defeated Douglas Lima. He had planned to defend the belt in 2022 but the war interrupted those notions, and his entire life.
After being involved in the defence of Ukraine for the opening months, and salvos, of that conflict, Amosov has been outside the country's borders since last summer. He still constantly speaks to Ukrainian soldiers and friends that stayed there in order to be aware of the situation and how his friends are doing over there, as his mind is constantly with them.
When he was called to fight for his country, Amosov had to leave his six-month-old son and his wife. He promised his family to come back, just before leaving them behind whilst heading into a war-zone without any serious military experience. He explains:
"My wife was scared. She understands that I might not call today, or tomorrow. When the war started, she always listened to what was happening, as the first attack was really close to my city."
Yaroslav Amosov was born in Iprin, which belongs to Kyiv district. Last February, it became the site of battlefield engagement during the Kyiv offensive. "We were driving 36 hours without sleep, because we wanted to [get to the border] and save our family.”
He points out that his wife is living in constant fear as there are constantly videos on the internet that show the war that is so close to them. He stresses that generally, all people in
Ukraine are scared and this is something that panics a group of people way bigger than what may be seen from our side.
While his family will surely on top of his mind this Saturday, he is dialled-in for the fight. "I have a lot of experience and I’ve recovered," he says. "I miss the sport; I want to step back in the cage. I’m ready, many people support me, and it gives me great energy.” Amosov is clear about the importance of this fight for himself and his people in Ukraine.
"The current situation in Ukraine is motivation for me. Sometimes during training, I think this is hard. Then I think about my friends in Ukraine and realize that for them it is hard. For me, it is just training.”
We should expect a very motivated and very competitive Yaroslav Amosov this Saturday, who still is very clear about his priorities - "It is not number one now. Number one is to save my family and my people."
Directly after his title fight against Storley, Yaroslav Amosov says he will return to his homeland but not before spending some time with his family.
"I want to kiss my son, my wife and, after that, I will go back to Ukraine."
- Reporting by Luis Eisemann, for SportsJOE
Logan Storley on facing Yaroslav Amosov again
Bellator 291 on Saturday, 25 February, is headlined by the highly anticipated second fight between the undefeated Yaroslav Amosov (26-0), and Logan Storley (14-1). This second clash has many fans wondering whether Amosov can add another win to his perfect record after a very difficult 12 months.
The first fight between the pair, in November 2020, was a three-round war. Amosov got the nod from two judges to win by spilt decision after landing 53 strikes versus Storley’s 13. In the first and second round, Amosov was able to stuff takedowns and efficiently scrambled whilst landing effective strikes when he was not on the defensive.
In the third and final round, Storley was able to take Amosov to the ground and put him in compromising positions and nearly sank in a rear naked choke. Amosov was able to
free himself and return to his feet. This round was able to convince one judge to score in favour for Storley at the end of the fight.
Since his loss to Amosov in 2020, Storley has remained active and is currently on a three-fight win streak. During the media day, Storley voiced his understanding of the difficult circumstances Amosov has faced and his respect for the Ukrainian fighter.
"We obviously feel for him … I don’t know what he is going through, what his family is going through."
When questioned about Amosov’s hiatus from the sport and the possible impact it could have on his preparation, Storley believes that his own consistent training regimen and continued activity will give him the upper hand.
“I don’t know what he has been able to do with the situation he has been in, but I do know that I have improved dramatically since November of 2020.
"In the first six to eight months, he probably wasn’t training. It was a life or death situation for him, and we weren’t going through that. But I want the best Amosov, and I think that’s what he wants. He wants the best version of me."
Ultimately, Storley believes his victory will come from improvements to setups that gain dominant positioning and more effective use of stamina to avoid fatiguing like he did in
their first fight.
Storley attributes his loss in their first fight to 'a few small scrambles and positions, where I let him get a more dominant position. In this fight, I need to make sure those
positions are mine'. Storley states:
"I had to push the pace harder than either of us had ever pushed during a fight. I think when my career is over, I’ll look back at that Amosov fight and realise how much I grew during that process."
'When I came to Dublin, I saw a very beautiful city' - Yaroslav Amosov
Logan Storley believes that Yaroslav Amosov’s aura of invincibility doesn’t intimidate him and that he could hand the undefeated fighter his first loss.
“At the end of the day," he says, "everybody’s human. We’ve seen it from Anderson Silva, to Fedor [Emelianenko], to all these guys that the world thought they couldn’t be
touched. If you put a shot in the right place, it doesn’t matter who you are, you can go down."
Going back to Yaroslav Amosov, the emotional impact of the war in Ukraine was evident as the fighter fought back tears on a couple of occasions. Although he had an interpreter with him, for questions, he wanted to speak in English so his message would reach more ears.
"It’s been a very hard year for all Ukrainians. For me, it has been a big motivation... my friends and family all said to me to use this fight to talk about what is happening in Ukraine. I want to talk about this situation... Vladimir Putin is crazy. He wants to kill women and children. He wants to kill everyone... We didn't attack anyone. We lived normal. We had coffee, breakfast, went to work. They [Russia] attack us."
"This is the first time I’m not fighting [for Bellator] in America," he says. "I like this. When I go to the cage many people will support me and this 100% gives me big energy."
The Ukrainian welterweight ends the media event with some words to all the Irish people in whose country he will compete for the first time, on Saturday night.
"Irish people give a really good energy and are always fun. When I came to Dublin, I saw a very beautiful city, and I really like the people. They smile every time. Very good people, very good atmosphere.”
- Reporting by Marius van Zyl, for SportsJOE
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