Six months ago, world champion MMA fighter Yaroslav Amosov should have been defending his welterweight title at Bellator 281 in London. Instead, the Ukrainian had returned to his homeland to help in the war effort following Russia’s invasion on February 24.
Now, Amosov will make his highly anticipated return to the cage at Bellator 291 in Dublin, Ireland on February 25, 2023, to defend his belt against interim title holder Logan Storley.
For months, any thoughts of returning to MMA had understandably been far from Amosov’s mind, but the 29-year-old says encouragement from those closest to him convinced him to once again pull on his gloves.
“When the war started, I didn’t know if I was going to be alive one day to the next, let alone fight again,” Amosov said to CNN Sport. “As things progress, you change your perspective.
“Once my hometown in Ukraine was liberated from Russian occupation, people around me — my family and friends – pushed me back into training because they want me to represent my country on an international scale and be able to speak about what is happening.
“This war puts things into perspective. You think you have problems, and then you really have problems. Everything else pales in comparison. Right now, the focus is on ending the war, ending the killing, and getting things to go back to normal.”
Amosov is one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world and, at 26-0, currently holds the longest active unbeaten streak in all of MMA, needing just three wins to equal Khabib Nurmagomedov’s all-time record of 29-0.
Amosov’s involvement in the war first became widely known back in April, when a video he posted of himself recovering his world championship belt from the rubble of his home in Irpin went viral.
Speaking exclusively to CNN from Irpin in May, Amosov recounted the horror and devastation Vladimir Putin’s war has brought to his homeland. He described it as “destruction.”
Amasov had returned home from a training camp in Thailand four days before the war began. Once Russian troops began advancing, Amosov says he took his wife and six-month-old son to safety on the outskirts of Ukraine before joining the territorial defense to aid civilians in and around Irpin.
But even now as he returns to camp and ramps up his training, Ukraine is never far from his mind.
“Even being out here in Germany and Poland training, this war is definitely not something I’m able to just walk away from and forget,” he said. “It was a difficult decision to return to MMA, and I didn’t come to it lightly.
“I wasn’t even fully on board for it, but my family and friends kept pushing me to return to fighting. I remember just crossing the border from Ukraine, I felt horrible. I constantly get news from my loved ones and family who are still in Ukraine about people who are no longer with us.
“I’ve lost great friends in this war, training partners; it’s horrible. It’s a very volatile situation. I try as hard as I can to avoid talking or thinking about it because it compromises my training, but you can’t just walk away from it.”
Amosov says part of the reason behind his decision to return to the cage for a showdown against Storley, whose only career defeat came in a split-decision defeat to Amosov in 2020, was to continue reminding people that the struggle his compatriots face back home is still ongoing.
According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), at least 6,595 Ukrainian civilians have been killed and 10,189 injured since Russia invaded the country.
Among those killed were at least 415 children, 2,575 men, 1,767 women and 1,838 other adults whose gender is yet to be identified, according to data released in Monday’s figures.
The commission said actual figures are “considerably higher” due to a lack of or delayed information in areas where the conflict has intensified, including in cities such as Mariupol, Izium, Lysychansk, Popasna and Severodonetsk.
“The atrocities taking place in Ukraine are beyond belief. You cannot be a human being and do what the [Russian soldiers] are doing. It’s beyond imagination. Regardless of what your views of the war are, any war is bad; people die on both sides, people are dying, and that itself is bad.
“But just ask yourself: where is the war taking place, and who attacked who? We’re not doing anything but defending our land. And we’re having success, but that comes with casualties, death.
“This whole experience changes perspectives. When I read on Twitter and see fighters say, ‘This is going to be a war; I’m going to kill him in the cage,’ they don’t know what real war is. I can’t help but think, ‘You have no idea what a real war is, or what it’s like to actually kill someone.’
“As far as training and fighting, I have a different motivation now. I want to continue to represent Ukraine on a world stage and remind people that we still exist, and that the war is still ongoing. We don’t want anything; we just want to go back to normal.”