One year and a day on from Russia’s invasion of his home country of Ukraine, Bellator MMA world champion Yaroslav Amosov will return to the cage to defend his title.
Amosov’s welterweight bout against Britain’s Michael Page was originally scheduled for May 2022, but was postponed when he returned to Ukraine to help in the war effort.
Page then fought against American Logan Storley for the interim welterweight championship and lost, meaning Amosov will now fight Storley for the title at Bellator 291 in Dublin, Ireland on Saturday.
Amosov’s involvement in the war first became widely known in April last year, when a video he posted of himself recovering his world championship belt from the rubble of his home in Irpin went viral.
“It’s a year since the big war started and for me it’s a big motivation because I understand what happened and what’s going on now in my country,” a visibly emotional Amosov said at Thursday’s press conference. “I understand that it’s been a very hard year for all Ukrainians.
“When the Russian soldiers left central Ukraine, I took my belt and many people – my friends, my team, manager and coach – told me: ‘You must go and defend your belt. Now, your work is as a mediator – you must win this fight, you must talk.’
“So I want to talk about this but it’s hard sometimes, for my country and me it’s hard, but I understand I must do this.”
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.
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.”
Amosov 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.
“It’s hard to look at your city that was once full of happiness, life,” Amosov told CNN at the time. “It was always very beautiful here, people were happy, they were happy with their life and took pleasure in it.
“Then simply to look at the city now, which is on fire, which is getting destroyed and it becomes horrible to look at. You couldn’t really go driving around the city because the roads were covered with trees, in some places, there were parts of houses. Destruction.”
According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), at least 8,006 Ukrainian civilians have been killed and 13,287 injured since the invasion began on February 24, 2022.
At least 487 children have been killed and 954 injured, but the OHCHR says the actual number of civilian casualties is “considerably higher” as reports of deaths and injuries in certain regions still cannot be corroborated.