Yaroslav Amosov back from fighting Russia on the frontline to defend world title

Yaroslav Amosov emerged from the shelled home of his mother in the battle-scared town of Irpin with a smile on his face.

Despite seeing his hometown destroyed by Russian forces following the country’s invasion of Ukraine, his Bellator championship belt had survived the assault, retrieved from the rubble by the 29-year-old.

24 February marks the one year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of their neighbouring country. It prompted a call to arms that saw men across Ukraine enlist in military service to defend their homeland. Amosov, who had begun the year preparing for his latest title defence, was now on the frontline of a war.

Irpin was the scene of one of the war’s early and most fierce battles, shelled by Russian forces as part of a tactic to encircle the capital of Kyiv.

After weeks of fighting, it was liberated from those invading forces with the battle-scarred town a symbol of Ukrainian resistance. Having never held a gun before the conflict began, Amosov was in a different world.

‘My military training was on the frontline, in a city I lived my whole life,’ he told Metro.co.uk.

‘My kindergarten, my school, my university, everything is there. I know my city so well if I close my eyes I will walk around no problem and find my way. For me, I knew I could help because I know my city. I know where we can go, where we can hide, so of course for me I wanted to help.

‘The pictures of seeing my city destroyed, I still see those pictures in my head.

‘But I say, I can help. Every day I did something different. One day I help the military, tomorrow I help civilians who are struggling. Every day was different. But always hard.’

One year on, Amosov will make an emotional return to the cage to defend his welterweight title against Logan Storley in Dublin on Saturday, looking to maintain the longest active winning streak in the sport having won all 26 of his professional fights.

He is only three wins away from eclipsing retired MMA star Khabib Nurmagomedov’s record of 29 consecutive wins.

‘I’m happy to be back,’ he said. ‘I have had a great time stepping back into the cage. Now I am feeling good and I have missed this time.’

On the line will be the belt he thought he had lost. Amosov’s mother along with the rest of his family had fled Irpin as the conflict broke out with her home reduced to a shell as a result of the constant assault on the city. Using the torch on his phone, he climbed into the basement with slim hopes of finding it.

‘I called my mother and asked, “where is my belt?” She had hidden it and told me where it was. It was a good moment and it made me think, maybe I will get back to the cage one day. People then start to say, Yaroslav, now you must fight.’

After getting his family to safety, Amosov was among a clutch of elite fighters who joined the war after Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskyy ordered the mobilisation of all able men between the age of 18 and 60 years old.

Also among those were heavyweight world champion Oleksandr Usyk and former three-weight world champion Vasiliy Lomachenko, with boxing royalty in Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko leading a fight from political office and on the ground.

With the war still raging 12 months on, walking away from the battlefield was not an easy decision for Amosov who was determined to stay. But having lost friends and with his family fearing for his life, he made the decision to leave and return to the environment where he can deliver the biggest impact.

‘My wife every time, she says you must go train. She is scared. Because she understands, maybe I am called today. When I go to war, she understands I may not come back.

‘One guy, my friend, we went together and he is dead. My wife and his girlfriend were friends. It is a very hard situation because she knows this man has died and she understands it can happen to me. She was so scared, every time she was motivating me to go and train.’

Usyk and Lomachenko left the warfare to return to their world of boxing, proudly flying the Ukrainian flag on the biggest stage with the support of their fighting countrymen and women back home.

Amosov has the same goal. ‘This is my motivation. I think many people say to me, you must go, you must stop and do a media attack of this situation. I speak to my wife, my family, my manager, they all say you must go. And I must listen to them.’

Watch Bellator 291: Amosov vs. Storley 2 live on BBC iPlayer from 4:30pm tomorrow, Saturday February 25

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