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Marcin Held in the penultimate spot to make 2015 all about Poland

Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Marcin Held just turned 23 years old in January, yet with 23 professional fights -- including four last year alone -- there are times when he feels much older. Such as when he speaks to your average everyday 23-year-old, who is just nudging his toe out into the world.

If fighters age in dog years, so far the Polish jiu-jitsu ace is slowing the roll.

"Maybe I feel a little bit older but not because I’m tired," he tells MMA Fighting. "Maybe when I look at other guys my age, at what they do versus what I do, I feel a little but older. I still feel really good. I don’t have any serious injuries, so everything is good."

Everything is good, if a little obstacle-ridden. Held will fight Friday night against Alexander Sarnavskiy at Bellator 136 in Irvine, Calif. After winning the Bellator Season 10 lightweight tournament, he was next in line to fight for the title. At least, in theory -- the now-defunct tournament structure was never a slam-dunk. With Dave Jansen fighting lightweight champion Will Brooks at the top of the card, Held will need to hold his standing for at least one more go round.

The prospect is actually sort of grim. Held will be stepping into the cage at the Bren Events Center to face a Russian who loses only 1/15th of the time (30-2) in what has ominously become known as a "stay busy fight." Not that it’s a set-up. At least not in his mind.

In fact, he volunteered.

"After winning the tournament I was supposed to have that title fight, and I asked Bellator for another fight because Dave Jansen was first in line and I would have to wait too long until the championship fight," he says. "So I asked for another fight, and they gave me this fight, and I think it’s a good test before the championship fight. If I want to be a champion I have to win this fight."

Held could become the second MMA champion to come out of Poland in 2015. In March, Joanna Jędrzejczyk became the first ever Polish champion in the UFC when she defeated Carla Esparza for the strawweight title. Held says that Jędrzejczyk’s accomplishment is good for Poland, and he’d like to follow suit.

And right now the so-called "prodigy of Polish MMA" splits time training in his native country and at Roufusport in Milwaukee, Wisc. He’s a decorated grappler who has won 11 of his professional fights via submission. On occasion, he’ll pop somebody in the chops to show there’s a sleeper stand-up game to be considered.

Ryan Healy found that out the hard way at Bellator 101.

"It is a nice feeling [to knock somebody out]," he says. "In a fight I am always focused to finish the fight. I never want to win by points, so I am always trying to finish. For me the easiest way is to finish the fight on the ground, so I try and do that. And I don’t want to risk too much to try something crazy in standing just because I want to knock somebody down. I want to finish the fight in the easiest way for me."

Against Sarnavskiy, a kickboxer at root, he knows the drill. The Russian will want to stand and trade, but just like with Held, there’s peril in underestimating the rest of his game. Sarnavskiy has a long string of submission victories, including 11 submissions via rear-naked choke alone.

"He’s a very good striker," Held says. "I will have to be careful standing, but I think my wrestling and my grappling are at a higher level. I don’t think he will have a huge advantage in the standing."

And even at just 23 years old, you get the feeling Held knows this from experience.

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