Yaroslav Amosov was fighting for something much bigger than himself this past weekend.
At Bellator 291, Amosov returned to the cage after a 19-month layoff to unify his welterweight title in a fight with interim champ Logan Storley. Amosov’s extended time away was the result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the welterweight champion’s desire to fight alongside his countrymen in defense of their homeland.
Given the long layoff, some wondered how Amosov would look in his return. It turns out, he looked better than ever, defending his welterweight title with a dominant unanimous decision victory over Storley. Speaking with Ariel Helwani on Monday, Amosov said his countrymen and their struggle was a big reason why.
“It’s a very big motivation,” Amosov said on The MMA Hour. “When I [see] pictures, I remember what happened, and every time people ask me how I feel and show me pictures, for me, it’s a big motivation, because now for Ukraine it’s very hard, and I want to give this win, this belt, for Ukraine. I think it’s very good.”
Amosov was born in Irpin, a city outside of the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. In February of 2022, Russian forces began the Kyiv offensive, with designs on encircling the city for its eventual capture. Irpin was host to one of the battles of this offensive, prompting Amosov’s decision to stay and defend his country. At the time, there were talks of Amosov defending his title against Michael “Venom” Page, but when his city came under attack, Amosov said that there wasn’t a choice to make.
“When I stay in my city, Irpin it’s the frontline,” he said. “I didn’t know when war [would] stop in my country, my city. I [didn’t] know what I [would] do later. I think, ‘Now I stay in [the] war,’ and I didn’t understand. But after, when the center of Ukraine was free, I think, ‘Maybe now I try back to cage,’ and many people said to me, ‘Let’s go, Yaroslav. You must defend the belt, you must [go] back to the cage.’ I said OK, and that’s it.”
The Battle of Irpin lasted for a month, with Russian troops initially able to capture much of the city. However, Ukrainian forces were eventually able to repel the invasion and recapture the city in full by the end of March 2022. The battle reportedly resulted in over 420 casualties, nearly three hundred of which were civilian.
During the fighting, Amosov wasn’t really thinking about his MMA career.
“One year ago, I thought maybe [I wouldn’t] come back, because I didn’t know what [would happen] after five minutes,” he said. “I not think about MMA. I think about my country, my people, my friends with me in the army. [I did not] think about MMA when it stopped in my city, only after I think, ‘Maybe.’ Next day I started training, but I [was] training because for me it’s recovery. I like stuff like training, and for me it’s for my head, good for recovery.”
While the Russo-Ukrainian War is still ongoing, Amosov’s part in direct conflict is done, for now. The Bellator welterweight champion said he’s not returning to military duty at the moment, but will continue to support his country and his people as best he can, and will split time between Ukraine and Poland, where his family is staying during the war. In the meantime, he will do what he does best: fight in the cage.
But not quite yet. After a long and taxing year, and a difficult comeback, “Dynamo” has earned a break.
“I think now I go to Ukraine and then I will see,” Amosov said. “Of course I want back again, but I don’t know when. Now I’m not thinking about MMA, because for a long time I was training and now I want to just relax with my family and friends. I need recovery.”