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Yaroslav Amosov Battles Memories of War in Preparation for Upcoming Title Defense

The Bellator welterweight champion puts his belt on the line in February—this after putting his life on the line in the Ukrainian military.

Welcome to The Weekly Takedown, Sports Illustrated’s in-depth look at MMA. Every week, this column offers insight and information on the most noteworthy stories in the fight world.

Yaroslav Amosov is no longer fighting for Ukraine in the country’s war against Russia. The reigning Bellator welterweight champion has returned to MMA. Or at least that is what he is attempting to do.

This past spring, Amosov traded in his fatigues for his Bellator gear. He is planning a return to active competition on Feb. 25, defending his title in a unification bout against interim champ Logan Storley. It will be a rematch of their November 2020 bout, which Amosov (26-0) won by a split decision.

“I can’t say I’m surprised Storley won the interim belt,” says Amosov, speaking through a translator. “His wrestling is that good. In our fight, he was very aggressive. I like his pressure.”

Splitting his training between Germany and Poland, Amosov is working to shed any rust accumulated since he last competed 17 months ago. The time away from the cage was directly related to his decision to serve in the Ukrainian military. He had no plans to leave, but was encouraged by family and friends to instead fight in MMA and represent Ukraine on a global stage.

Yet Amosov remains haunted by what he experienced. He left the war, but the war did not leave him.

“Leaving Ukraine was very difficult,” says Amosov. “That was not what I wanted to do. People were pushing me to leave, and all their intentions were pure. But I feel absolutely horrible about it. I’ve felt that way since I crossed the border. It is still a very volatile situation. I constantly wait for news about my friends. I keep learning about friends that have died. Just thinking about it is terrible, and I can’t stop thinking about it.”

Only 29, Amosov initially questioned whether he would even continue his fighting career. That mindset has evolved since leaving active combat, but he feels an obligation to fight–and advocate–for his country.

“I will continue to stand for Ukraine,” says Amosov. “We did not invade someone else’s country. That is what Russia did to us. All we want is for life to go back to normal. We just want life to be normal again. We don’t want anything else.”

As Ukraine tightly clenches its freedom, it comes at a cost. There have been more than 7,000 civilians killed since the start of the war in February, per the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine. Those deaths are a central reason why Amosov has returned to Bellator.

Once the situation in his hometown of Irpin stabilized, and central Ukraine was liberated from Russian occupation, Amosov understood it is his responsibility to carry Ukraine’s flag around the globe. During his fight this February at Bellator 291 in Dublin, Ireland, that is exactly what he will be doing.

“At first, I was questioning whether I would live, let alone fight again,” says Amosov. “As the war progressed, I found a new perspective. I am not back in Bellator for me. I am not fighting for me. I am fighting for Ukraine. The war is still ongoing, and the world needs to know that.”

Amosov wants to beat Storley in February. His motivation is altogether different from where it was a year ago, during a peaceful time when his sole focus was to be the best in the world.

MMA represents a conduit for Amosov, a platform to relay the stories of his fallen soldiers. Their lives did not end without purpose, and that is a message he intends to share.

“War means death, and my friends are dying,” says Amosov. “I didn’t know what real problems were until the war started. Unfortunately, now I know.”

Uncertainty surrounds Derrick Lewis following last week’s fight cancellation, but the holidays loom

Derrick Lewis was scheduled to fight this last Saturday, headlining UFC Fight Night against Sergey Spivak. Per the UFC, the bout was called off due to Lewis experiencing a non-COVID, non-weight-cutting illness.

The timing of the fight had appeared to be perfect for Lewis, who prefers to fight before Thanksgiving.

“I thought about that when I took the fight,” says Lewis, who spoke ahead of the fight. “My wife’s birthday is coming up, and I thought about that, too. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s parties. I can’t think about those when I’m fighting.”

As of now, the bout has yet to be rescheduled. That will allow Lewis to enjoy Thanksgiving without thinking about an upcoming fight. And while Lewis loves to eat, he will not be enjoying any turkey this Thanksgiving.

“Turkey is too dry,” says Lewis. “I don’t like it. I’m a ham guy.”

Despite not having any historical roots to the first Thanksgiving, Lewis is a big proponent of making ham a holiday mainstay.

“Honey ham, I would eat that all day,” says Lewis. “I’d eat it two days straight. I love ham.”

The Pick ‘Em Section:

PFL world championship women’s lightweight bout: Kayla Harrison vs. Larissa Pacheco

Pick: Kayla Harrison

PFL world championship featherweight bout: Bubba Jenkins vs. Brendan Loughnane

Pick: Brendan Loughnane

PFL world championship heavyweight bout: Ante Delija vs. Matheus Scheffel

Pick: Ante Delija

PFL world championship lightweight bout: Stevie Ray vs. Olivier Aubin-Mercier

Pick: Olivier Aubin-Mercier

PFL world championship welterweight bout: Sadibou Sy vs. Dilano Taylor

Pick: Sadibou Sy

PFL world championship light heavyweight bout: Rob Wilkinson vs. Omari Akhmedov

Pick: Rob Wilkinson

Last week: 3-1

2022 record: 134-72

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