Headlined by featherweight champion A.J. McKee against Patricio "Pitbull" Freire, the 277 card at the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif. also includes light heavyweight champ Vadim Nemkov against Corey Anderson in the light heavyweight world grand prix finals.
In preparation for the April 15 bout, Yagshimuradov (18-7-1 MMA, 0-2 BMMA) has been training – and living – at the American Top Team facility in Coconut Creek, Fla., a long way removed from home.
Born in Turkmenistan, Yagshimuradov has spent the past 12 years in Kharkov, Ukraine, building a life with his family – and providing for them as a fighter and entrepreneur. He owned and operated two businesses, a businessman with three different degrees, including a bachelor's degree in law and economics from the Kharkiv National University of Economics. But all of his hard work has been demolished amid the ongoing situation in Ukraine.
"Neither of the businesses are there now," said Yagshimuradov in an interview translated from Russian. "There has been a lot of stress. It's hurt me financially, but right now, it's most important that everyone stays alive and well."
Withholding information due to the family's privacy amongst the current uncertainties in Ukraine, Yagshimuradov has used his training camp as an opportunity to narrow his focus.
"There is nothing left at home," Yagshimuradov said. "As a man, it's time for me to fight for my family. In this fight, you will see a whole different man."
The 32-year-old Yagshimuradov is a former champion, winning the Absolute Championship Berkut light heavyweight title, as well as the Absolute Championship Akhmat light heavyweight belt. He seeks to end a two-fight losing streak, and both of those defeats were suffered in the Bellator cage–though there was a marked difference between the two contests.
Corey Anderson defeated Yagshimuradov in April of 2021 via a third-round TKO, but after a full training camp with ATT, Yagshimuradov put forth a far better performance in a unanimous decision loss–one that even could have been scored in his favor–last October against Karl Albrektsson. Now in his second full camp in Coconut Creek, ATT founder Dan Lambert believes Yagshimuradov is on the cusp of his breakout moment in the cage.
"The guy is a pro," Lambert said. "He's always helping out other fighters and happy to do everything from drilling position to sparring hard when it's asked of him – he's a real pleasure to have in the gym.
"I don't think Bellator has seen his complete skill set on display yet. He is a complete fighter with a lot of explosion and power."
Yagshimuradov has spent the past five months perfecting his wrestling, which he looks to utilize in the upcoming bout against Johnson. And fighting has served as an indispensable distraction from the bounty of complications and toil back in Ukraine.
Following the fight, Yagshimuradov will have to quarantine and then renew his visa. He has a long road ahead of him, but his sole focus right now is winning the fight on April 15.
"I have nothing to lose," Yagshimuradov said. "People are going to see that hunger and dominance in my fight."
This story first published at SI.com/MMA.