Yaroslav Amosov just beat the greatest welterweight in the history of Bellator, but in some ways it feels like he’s just getting started.
For those in the know, the undefeated Ukrainian was viewed as a legitimate threat to end Douglas Lima’s third title reign and sure enough, at Bellator 260, Amosov used his wrestling to win a lopsided decision (the scores were 50-45, 49-46, and 49-6 in Amosov’s favor) and capture his first major MMA championship. The win also improved Amosov’s pro record to 26-0 and Bellator record to 7-0, guaranteeing him a spot in any discussion of the top fighters at 170 pounds today.
Amosov recently spoke to MMA Fighting about how his life has changed on his path from Sambo champion to Bellator welterweight king, and while he wasn’t quite ready to commit to fighting again this year, he opened up on a number of other topics including his warm homecoming celebration and what he thinks about comparisons to Khabib Nurmagomedov.
(Interview conducted with assistance from Ukrainian translator provided by Parimatch, one of Amosov’s sponsors. Questions and answers edited for grammar and clarity.)
How are you feeling two weeks after becoming Bellator world champion?
Of course, it feels good. Don’t get me wrong, it feels really good. But in fact, not much has changed in my life because I’m surrounded by the same family, the same friends, I spend my days doing pretty much the same things with pretty much the same people. But it feels very good because it’s a goal that I’ve been walking and striding towards for a very, very long time and now that I have achieved it, I can say that I’m actually happy.
At one point in your career did you know that you could be a world champion in MMA?
I think the defining moment was when I was signing the contract with Bellator because in my opinion it doesn’t really make sense to sign up for an organization and just fight there as a one-off. If you’re signing to fight with an organization, you have to aspire to win, to go to the very top, so that was the moment of realization for me.
What was your athletic background before getting into combat sports?
Really, I didn’t practice any particular sport for more than, like, two weeks before I was 15. I did a variety of things like BMX, breakdancing, or whatever was the fad of the day, but ultimately when I turned 15, my stepfather basically took my hand and led me into a gym where I’m training until now.
Amosov was born and raised in the city of Irpin, which is about six miles from Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital. He’s lived in Irpin his entire life and describes his hometown as an area that’s currently undergoing bustling development due to commuters from Kyiv pouring money into properties and infrastructure.
However, Amosov says the area wasn’t as welcoming when he was younger. Irpin is a small, working town that has a history of criminal activity and drug abuse, according to Amosov. Even in this darkness, he found light in the city’s natural beauty, speaking fondly of its woods, lakes, and rivers.
He sounds proud of what Irpin has become and based on the welcome he received at an airport in Ukraine after defeating Lima, the feeling is mutual.
Have you ever had a homecoming like the one you experienced after winning the Bellator welterweight title?
I mean, my friends and family would always meet and greet me at the airport, I always enjoyed very nice homecomings. But those were usually in a very tight-knit circle of friends. Right now, it was probably the first time it’s been so big and so popular among just people that I didn’t necessarily meet before.
I don’t really enjoy the publicity. I prefer to stay in the shade and just do whatever I do in my tight-knit circle of friends and family, but sometimes, yes, the popularity does bring me some joy but most of the time it makes me uncomfortable, really.
What was up with the masks that some of the greeters at the airport were wearing?
What I do know is that these “rabbit girls”—I reckon those were rabbits—they were from the Parimatch team and Parimatch is my official sponsor, those are the people that helped me a lot. Actually, I received an unexpected, but a very welcome gift, they presented me with a motorbike, a BMW motorbike right in the airport and that really made me very happy.
But why the rabbit heads, I’m not sure, just I know that this was Parimatch, their doing.
Douglas Lima is widely regarded as Bellator’s best welterweight so far, what did it mean to you to beat him for the title?
First and foremost, I’d like to say that I’ve got a lot of respect for Douglas. He’s a big name, he’s a huge fighter, and for me it was an immense pleasure to face off with such an opponent and to defeat him ultimately. That gives me an understanding that I’m in fact growing, that I’m becoming better, it gives me hope for the future. But once again I’m really happy that I was able to fight him and, of course, it brings me a lot of joy that I could defeat him.
I think that out of these two contenders Jason Jackson is the more formidable one in my opinion. There’s a reason why he’s rated higher in the rankings because he’s up there with the big guys. I think one of the reasons for that is because he fights fairly often and he keeps his skills very sharp all the time.
So I think I will just do what I gotta do to defend my title. Bellator’s going to offer me contenders, it’s going to set up fights for me to defend my title and I’m just going to do what I have to do.
Does your success position you to be a leader for this generation of Ukrainian fighters?
I would sure hope it does. I can’t speak for the other athletes, because it’s up to them to decide, but if my victories give a little bit of inspiration to just anyone, that would make me very, very happy.
Because you’re an undefeated fighter, you’re a powerful wrestler, and you’re from Eastern Europe, fans are going to compare you to Khabib Nurmagomedov. How does that comparison sound to you?
That’s Sambo. (laughs)
What’s the magic number of wins for you to retire?
(Amosov answered in English) I finish if the feeling is not very good, okay, finish, no problem. Now I’m feeling good and I think I must fight every time.
You’re expecting your first child in July, how has this changed your motivation to compete?
What’s interesting is that I wanted my child to be born and know that when he was born his father was a real champion. For me, perhaps this was the largest, the most significant motivation for me to win this fight, is to be a world champion when my baby boy is born.