Led by reigning champion Patricio "Pitbull" Freire, Bellator's featherweight division is incredibly deep.
Freire defends the title next week against Adam Borics at Bellator 286. Also fighting on that card is former champ A.J. McKee, who is eager for a trilogy bout against Freire. Following Freire's title defense against Borics, the next title defense should belong to McKee – though the wildly talented Borics would love to play spoiler and take the title.
Fairly quietly, Aaron Pico also meets Jeremy Kennedy at Bellator 286. A victory by Pico, who is ranked fourth in the division, against No. 6 Kennedy is critical to his path to the belt. Pico has the potential to be better than both Freire and McKee. But there is an avenue for other fighters to the title, including Mads Burnell.
Burnell (16-4 MMA, 3-1 BMMA) just lost to Borics in March, ending a seven-fight win streak, so his featured featherweight bout against Pedro Carvalho (12-6 MMA, 5-3 BMMA) at Bellator 285 is a must-win.
"I'm here to put on a performance and get closer to the title," Burnell says. "Fighting is my whole purpose in life. I think about it all day and dream about it at night."
Burnell lost to Borics by unanimous decision. The fight was extremely competitive, but Borics impressed judges with a more consistent attack.
"I fought more with nut sack than my brain," Burnell says. "I'm not mad at the decision. I think my style did me a disservice. He had more volume, but I had the harder shots. Again, it was a close fight. I thought I was up. I'm not saying I was robbed. I should have wrestled a little more."
Bellator 285 takes place at the 3Arena in Dublin, Ireland, not too far from Burnell's home in Copenhagen, Denmark. Unlike his fights in America, Burnell will have family in the crowd at 285.
"My pops will be there," Burnell says. "He's been going through some struggles the last year or so, like blood clots and losing his vision in his left eye, and now he's been diagnosed with Parkinson's. He's the one that got me in this game, so it means a lot that he can be here."
On Thursday night, Burnell prepared for the fight with a pasta dinner, Coca-Cola, and binge-watching Breaking Bad. That is a combo he believes will have him ready for the cage.
"I don't believe in doing anything differently on fight days," Burnell says. "I stay consistent. I love Italian food, so I ate pasta–but not with fish. I hate fish with a passion. And I had some water and Coke. A Coke a day keeps the doctor away.
"I have the rest I need. Now I just need to go out and be me."
Abdukhanov bringing MMA influences into Jinjer
Eugene Abdukhanov is the bass guitarist in the surging metalcore band Jinjer, and he is also a proud mixed martial artist.
While his home in Donetsk, Ukraine is a world away from the United States, Abdukhanov has found constant inspiration from Stockton, California's native sons Nate and Nick Diaz.
"I really respect their approach," says Abdukhanov, who grew up fighting in the rough streets of Donetsk. "They never expected to be these icons. I never expected I would be traveling the world playing music. People where I am from never get to this level. The biggest goal for people back home is to travel to Kyiv. That is it. The U.S. feels like traveling to a different universe. I never even dreamt of traveling this far and being what I am now. For me, the Diaz brothers are role models."
Abdukhanov competed in the Ukraine National Challenge Jiu-Jitsu Championship last January. He finished second, relishing every moment of the competition.
"Winning wasn't my goal," Abdukhanov says. "It's just like wanting to be successful in music. That is not my mindset. You need to enjoy the process. Then, when success comes, you may not even notice it. That's what happened to us in the band. So I wasn't thinking about winning. I wanted to compete and enjoy what I was doing."
There have been no further MMA opportunities this year for Abdukhanov, who has been preoccupied anyway since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.
"It was like an apocalypse," Abdukhanov says. "Life will never be the same again. The world of the past was completely ruined. There is no going back."
When Russian missiles struck Ukraine, Abdukhanov was among the civilians affected. Only 35 years old, he instantly feared his future had ended. A loving father of two, he began to come to grips with the nightmare that he would never again hold his wife or two children.
"I was driving along the road when, all of a sudden, everything started exploding around me," Abdukhanov says. "It was like a movie scene, but no movie can compare to the reality. It was horror. I was thinking, 'It's been a great life. At least my kids are safe. This is the end.'
"I was in shock, but I managed to get to Kyiv. Since then, life changed completely. The number of deaths is awful. People lost their hopes. Millions of people became refugees. I'm so grateful for all the people helping refugees. We owe the world for the support they've given us."
Grateful to be alive and healthy, Abdukhanov and his bandmates in Jinjer immediately focused on relief efforts. Their fundraising effort has generated over $100,000, with the money donated to various humanitarian projects. They already helped rebuild a musical school near Kyiv, one that was completely destroyed.
Jinjer's world tour, which just started and continues Saturday in Mexico, is one where the band will act as ambassadors of the nation. No matter where the band travels – and the tour is extensive, with stops in Colombia, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Chile, Israel, and the United States – Abdukhanov remains committed every morning to his MMA training. And he will continue to champion his country.
"Nothing will break the Ukrainian nation," Abdukhanov says. "Ukraine is fighting and will win."
Only 17, Raul Rosas Jr. signs UFC contract
Raul Rosas Jr. made UFC history this week, becoming the youngest fighter to ever sign with the promotion.
Rosas, 17, defeated Mando Gutierrez by unanimous decision three nights ago on the Dana White Contender Series in a bantamweight bout. He needed permission from his parents to compete, which is atypical in professional mixed martial arts. Despite his young age, his skill is undeniable. The victory extended Rosas' undefeated streak, and the performance against the 25-year-old Gutierrez was his most impressive showing yet.
Gutierrez was able to land takedowns, but Rosas (6-0 MMA, 0-0 UFC) used his precision on the mat to constantly gain the better position. After repeatedly forcing Gutierrez into vulnerable positions over the course of three rounds, he did enough on the scorecards to win the fight.
Currently, Dan Lauzon holds the record for youngest fighter in UFC history. Lauzon competed at 18 years, 198 days. Rosas will surpass that mark if he fights within the next 200 days, which is extremely likely.
Given his young age and versatile skillset, there is no ceiling for Rosas in the UFC.
This story first published at SI.com/MMA.