Bellator MMA’s welterweight division is one of their deepest in terms of developing talent. The promotion has heavily invested in young wrestlers - NCAA standouts like Joey Davis, Ed Ruth, Kyle Crutchmer and Logan Storley are on the rise at 170.
At this point, however, Ukrainian “Dynamo” Yaroslav Amosov stands above them all. At 24-0, the Sambo player has become a dangerous all-rounder. His game is highlighted by volume striking, with proficiency on both the lead and the backfoot, as well as highly competent wrestling and grappling.
From what we’ve seen thus far, Amosov does not fall into the trap that many well-rounded fighters do. He uses his skills with intention and pushes his advantages, imposing a pace and forcing his opponents to deal with all of his threats as he smoothly transitions between the different phases of mixed martial arts.
His crowning achievement is his workmanlike victory over three-time NCAA champion Ed Ruth in February 2020. Amosov was able to extend exchanges and expose Ruth’s messy footwork while staying competitive in wrestling exchanges - even taking down the highly credentialed Nittany Lion. A more in-depth breakdown of that performance will follow shortly.
On Thursday November 12th, Amosov will face off with another Division 1 blue-chip prospect, four-time All-American Logan Storley - one of the winningest wrestlers in the history of the University of Minnesota. Training under Henri Hooft and the coaches at Sanford MMA, Storley has developed a functional power kickboxing game and effectively applied his wrestling base to an MMA context.
To gain insight into this matchup, let’s examine Amosov’s win against Ed Ruth, before breaking down the basic features of Logan Storley’s game.
Early in his MMA career, Ed Ruth was jumping between training camps. He had a stint at Jackson-Wink in Albuquerque, as well as a stay at Dethrone Base Camp in Fresno with Josh Koscheck and Deron Winn.
Young athletes transitioning from other combat sports often have a first-priority focus of learning complementary martial arts. This makes a lot of sense. Before you can fight, you should definitely have a good sense of how to attack and defend yourself both on the feet and on the ground, even if your strategy is just to wrestle and ride. To the surprise of no one, Ruth picked up on these new skills fairly quickly. He was seen early on doing well in grappling competitions and battering lower level regional fighters on the feet.
Many questioned the decision for Ruth to enter Bellator’s welterweight grand prix among a field of experienced veterans and tougher stylistic matchups. He was just 6-0, but after finishing all but one of his opponents, Ruth must have been feeling confident about his prospects. He was immediately thrust into the deep end, facing off against Neiman Gracie in a five-round fight. Some of Ruth’s more fundamental flaws were exposed that night. We learned that although Ruth can handle himself in most phases, and that his wrestling competency advantage was enough to win rounds, his style was not designed to build on these advantages and break down more advanced opponents.
Ultimately, Ruth faded and Gracie went to work. Ruth was taken down himself and submitted in the fourth round. It certainly wasn’t a terrible showing, but it was clear there was work to be done. If Ruth wanted to become a fighter with a winning game that functions against the top of his division, he would have to specialize. He settled on relocating to American Kickboxing Academy, home of Khabib Nurmagomedov, Daniel Cormier, Cain Velasquez, and many other highly successful wrestling-based fighters. The obvious benefits would be a high-level training room and elite instruction in ground control and cage work.
We saw this approach come through a bit in his returning bout vs. Kiichi Kunimoto, but he was pushed hard by Jason Jackson - a functional Hooft-trained kickboxer from a room full of elite wrestlers. Ruth had “leveled up” many areas of his game, but it was becoming apparent that the links were not there. His striking wasn’t designed to set up his wrestling, making it much more difficult to take down opponents who could outmaneuver him on the feet.
If this theory was ever in doubt, Yaroslav Amosov perfectly illustrated the flaws in Ruth’s game in their meeting this past February.
When most fans think of “exposing holes” in the game of an up-and-coming fighter, they typically consider skill competencies. For example, Ed Ruth’s most recent fight, a first-round submission loss via leglock, is a more obvious example of gaps in his skill-set.
Yaroslav Amosov took the fight to Ed Ruth much more comprehensively, largely exploiting issues with his footwork and defense in more extended exchanges.
Check out some of the excellent work Amosov did on the lead.
Amosov favors shifting entries, typically leading with his jab or rear straight to cover space. The dipping nature of his entry allows him to level change fairly seamlessly - something missing from Ed Ruth’s game. This works in his favor both offensively and defensively. Amosov can get to the legs if he wishes, pursuing that takedown or striking off the break, or just match Ruth’s level to stop any reactive shot attempts.
The ability to shift through linear combinations of straights allowed Amosov to push forward with meaningful strikes while keeping his shoulders high and chin protected. Ruth seemed to favor checking strikes on the backfoot, retreating tall and pulling his head back. This is a very common tactic, or habit, from fighters training at AKA.
From a striking standpoint, that is mostly acceptable, but for wrestlers it severely limits your takedown entry opportunities. If you’re standing tall with your weight trending backward, it’s going to take the ability to create more space and plant to stop that momentum, change levels and drive in. Ruth was more focused on hitting short counters, the space between Amosov and himself was too tight to create any such opportunities in the majority of these situations. Ruth tended to blade his stance as well, making it even more difficult to turn and face for takedown entries. Even from a defensive wrestling standpoint, Ruth was left vulnerable by the predictability of his responses. Amosov was able to read those tall backfoot counters every time he hit those long shifting rear straight entries, eventually blending that motion into double leg entries of his own.
This approach did not only limit Ruth as a wrestler. Amosov was able to continue to push these shifting combinations moving forward, forcing Ruth to retreat in a straight line. Ruth did not demonstrate the ability to break that line and angle off or move laterally - meaning Amosov could run him into the cage when he had clean openings to go off.
It isn’t a massive flaw to be limited as a wrestler when pushed backward in this way, as long as your game on the lead makes sense. Unfortunately, at this point Ed Ruth’s pressure is mostly just “walking forward.” Amosov was able to predict Ruth’s timing fairly easily, matching his level changes when they approached the cage.
He has some nice tools, like the ability to read and slip straights, but he typically does not build off of those moments. It would make sense to collapse space off slips and use that for a clinch entry, for example.
Ruth’s pressure was so predictable that eventually Amosov was able to time his forward motion and hit a reactive double of his own.
Amosov’s ability to make Ruth uncomfortable with his work on the front foot, combined with his ability to read and react to Ruth’s tactics while on the back foot, made him an extremely difficult opponent for the blue-chip prospect. What made matters worse was the fact that Amosov demonstrated exceptional competency in wrestling situations.
When Ruth did get to the legs in open space, he often had to resort to bending over at the waist and reaching. This may work well against less skilled wrestlers, but Amosov was able to post on the head, remain squared up and disengage. His flexibility certainly helped in these situations.
Shooting off of established tie-ups and clinch situations was a much better look for Ruth. Nonetheless, Amosov demonstrated urgency in underhooking when there was space, and whizzering the other arm to keep Ruth’s level high. Amosov looked phenomenal at maintaining balance and fighting grips when he had that whizzer defense locked in. Ruth’s persistence in chasing the underhook and pushing in resulted in a beautiful hip throw off the whizzer for Amosov. The uchi mata, an inside reaping throw from the whizzer, was another great tool for Amosov in extending scrambles and creating separation from Ed Ruth.
Amosov is a little shakier when trying to crossface off a deeper double leg attack, but his hips and balance allow him to base and turn in fairly easily on the finish. From there he’s reliable at peeling hands and escaping from the quad pod or rear-standing.
In summary - Yaroslav Amosov has reliable weapons and pressure tactics on the lead, which exposed Ed Ruth’s lack of defensive depth on the back foot. When Ruth attempted to pressure, his approach was predictable and Amosov was able to defend and even counter. In specific wrestling situations, Amosov looked solid and was effective in pursuing his own attacks against an extremely credentialed opponent.
Let’s take a brief look at his next opponent, Logan Storley.
Coming out of high school in South Dakota, Logan Storley was one of the most prized recruits of his graduating class. Storley racked up a folkstyle national title as well as a Fargo freestyle title in addition to his six state championships. He received an invitation to the Dapper Dan wrestling classic, which pits the best high school seniors in the country against the best seniors in Pennsylvania - the toughest state for wrestling. He defeated an undefeated state champion in John Michael Staudenmayer before transitioning to the collegiate level at the University of Minnesota.
Storley competed in an era of elites at 174 pounds. Contending with the likes of Ed Ruth, Chris Perry, Andrew Howe, Matt Brown, Tyler Wilps, Mike Evans, Robert Kokesh, and many more, Storley consistently positioned himself as one of the top five wrestlers in the country. At the NCAA championships, he placed 6th, 4th, 3rd, and 4th. In college Storley was known for a fairly conservative style, with the occasional moment of brilliance like the flashy elevator reversal he hit on Mike Evans as a senior.
Training in South Florida with Henri Hooft and Greg Jones, Storley has been able to construct an offensive, active style for MMA.
Storley is turning into a pressure fighter of sorts. Like his teammate Michael Chandler, Storley prefers to take space in jumps, bouncing in his stance in-between those actions. His main weapons are his jab, rear straight and rear round kick. The round kick in particular does a lot of work to keep his opponents lined up for penetration shots.
Like lightweight GOAT Khabib Nurmagomedov, Storley doesn’t mind covering distance with explosive leg attacks. He has looked fantastic in immediately transitioning from the legs to his finish - sometimes chaining to upper body positions before dropping right back down to the legs. His work rate in these positions is exceptional, Storley is able to turn even the smallest successes into completed takedowns.
His top game is promising. Storley utilizes the leg mount, cross-wrist and Iowa rides on top, keeping an anchor on at least one leg to begin to set up dangerous ground and pound positions. On top he has a nice feel for keeping his opponents flat, this is the strongest part of his game at the moment.
If a wrestler really is the stylistic ideal to beat Yaroslav Amosov, I do believe that Storley will be a better test than Ed Ruth was. He is much more intentional about getting to his attacks, and Amosov did give up a few positions throughout the fight. From what I’ve seen, Storley’s top game is much more developed and control-focused at this point - he may be able to make those opportunities count.
It may be a bit too much for Logan Storley this early in his career, but we’re going to learn a lot about both men, it’s certainly a fight to keep an eye on this Thursday night.