When David Rickels steps into the cage on Saturday night at Bellator 225 at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Connecticut to face Yaroslav Amosov, the roles of the two fighters will be clearly defined.
Rickels, a 30-year-old Derby native, is the seasoned veteran with the most fights (23) in Bellator history and will be given the chance to see if he still looks the part of a welterweight contender against Amosov, a 25-year-old prospect from Ukraine who has finished 17 of his 21 opponents during an undefeated start to his mixed-martial-arts career.
It’s a familiar position for Rickels, who has handed the first loss to an opponent in eight of his 15 Bellator victories. Rickels (21-5) vs. Amosov (21-0) will be on the main card, which will start at approximately 8 p.m. Saturday and will be broadcast on Paramount Network and streamed on DAZN.
“Putting the first loss on his career would be huge for me,” Rickels told the Eagle. “I really love being in this position because a lot of young prospects get this idea that, ‘Oh, I’ll just make my way through Dave. This will be easy.’
“Well, guess again. I still have a lot I want to do in this game. I’m very savvy, and I have a lot of experience of being in the cage for a long time. It’s not an easy task to get through me.”
Since losing a match for the lightweight title in 2013, Rickels has been chasing one more title shot. Even with wins in four of his last five matches, Rickels would need to string more wins together to make a compelling case to Bellator for a title chance.
Building that case starts Saturday when Rickels puts his striking skills to the test against the wrestling skills of Amosov, whose grappling has led to 21 straight victories — the longest active streak in Bellator.
Training for fights at this stage in his career has offered new challenges to Rickels, who is married with two children. He prides himself in being a family man, and he rarely travels further than a three-hour drive to train anymore. But Rickels says he’s in pristine shape entering Saturday’s fight and he still fights because he loves the sport.
“I could quit fighting right now and financially be okay, but I would miss it more than anything else,” Rickels said. “I can’t even imagine. I’m only 30 years old, so in theory I’m still pretty young as far as retirement goes. The thing I always told myself is when I can’t fire myself up to give everything I have in a training camp and doing two or three workouts a day and dieting, doing all of the right things to be the best possible version of myself in the cage, then that’s when I don’t need to do it anymore.”
Rickels is making the same promise — one that he’s delivered almost every fight — for those who tune in on Saturday night: a Derby shoutout into the camera, an exciting fight, and, of course, his specialty, an entertaining walk-out.
“I have my guys building it for me right now, so we’ll see if they get it done in time for the fight Saturday,” Rickels said. “I actually had to get it cleared through the production people in Bellator. The real hint I can give you is that it’s a tribute to an OG in the fight game, one of my mentors in the fight game. I’m doing something special for him.”