Back in 2012, Vyacheslav Vasilevsky, a young Russian fighter just three years into his budding MMA career, ventured to North America to try his hand in the Bellator Season 6 middleweight tournament. It occurred during the influx of Russian talent invited to compete on the promotion's roster but only lasted a little more than two months.
Vasilevsky made his successful debut in the tournament quarterfinal against Victor O'Donnell, who he defeated by unanimous decision. However, just one month later, he suffered a decision loss to Maiquel Falcão. Vasilevsky was released from his contract and immediately returned to Russia.
Since then, however, Vasilevsky -- known as 'Slava' -- took part in an impressive run in his native land. He compiled a nine-fight winning streak that lasted nearly three years. During that time, he avenged his loss to Falcao, defeated the likes of Trevor Prangley, and claimed the M-1 middleweight title in a Fight of the Year candidate against Ramazan Emeev. He eventually lost the title to Emeev in a rematch the following year but has since rebounded with a second round KO victory at M-1 Challenge 62 in Sochi.
Given that his exciting battles for M-1 Global helped develop his reputation and fan base in Russia, many assumed that Slava had found his permanent home and was comfortable completing his career in Russia. However, the longtime middleweight's exclusive contract with M-1 Global is set to expire in April, and, to the surprise of many, he is contemplating a return to North America.
"I would definitely like to try again in North America," Vasilevsky told BloodyElbow. "I was in Bellator before and it wasn't so successful. Now, in retrospect, maybe I was too raw back then. However, if we are talking about a possible place for me, then North America could be that someday. I would consider the UFC."
Vasilevsky's reasoning behind this decision is two-fold: He would like to avenge his "unsuccessful" first venture in America and simultaneously prove that fighters branded with the UFC's logo are not the only elite competitors in the sport.
"It is interesting for me because most say that the best fighters are there, but also because we are victims of stereotypes - that there is no one good outside of the UFC. They simply believe that putting the UFC brand on any fighter means that he is some sort of superstar. This doesn't make sense. If I am an M-1 champion, that doesn't mean that I am beating cans. They are also high-level fighters. It is not about the promotion, it is about the fighters. That is what I want to prove, in general, about the Russian fighters, and about myself."
Haunted by his Bellator release and lackluster showings in the USA, Vasilevsky is willing to forgo his Russian popularity to fight in the MMA trenches once again.
"When I was in North America, I gained some popularity fighting for Bellator...some. But if we are talking about Russian fanbase, the fights in M-1 gave me a lot of fans. But for me, I am looking for motivation. Many have told me that I need to go to North America to prove myself. Especially after the first unsuccessful trip, I would like to go again one day and show what I am really capable of."