“The fact that I can even say now, ‘I can’t fight my opponent, because he’s gone to war,’ is insane to me. And I’m not lying when I say it, I think that’s crazy.”
On Friday night, Michael “Venom” Page will step out in front of a home crowd at London’s Wembley Arena, looking to win the interim Bellator welterweight title.
His fight, against American Logan Storley, is not the one he expected to be competing in. The title is not the one he expected to be competing for.
But when Bellator welterweight champion Yaroslav Amosov returned to his native Ukraine to aid the resistance against Russia’s ongoing invasion, “MVP” was quick to adapt to the prospect of a fresh opponent and fresh situation. In fact, Page had mentally prepared himself for just that eventuality.
“I think we were in the gym when I found out [about Amosov’s withdrawal], but I had assumed that was gonna happen,” the 35-year-old tells The Independent. “I thought maybe he was gonna be distracted and it would be hard for him to train, so: ‘I’m gonna pull out, because I need to be with my family and stay updated.’ Completely understandable.
“Then I saw some of the other fighters going over there and thought about the pressure of media going: ‘Well, you’re a champion in our country as well, so you should be coming over here...’ There were so many things, so when it happened I was just like: ‘Okay, who we got next?’ Like I said, I completely understand, based on the situation.”
And so, in steps Storley. The 29-year-old wrestling specialist enters Bellator London on the back of two straight wins, an ideal response to the first and so far only loss of his professional career – a split-decision defeat by Amosov in 2020.
Storley (13-1) has an altogether different approach than that of Page (20-1), who has a kickboxing background and Karate-heavy stance. While Storley is fully capable of securing a finish, having achieved eight of his 13 professional wins via KO/TKO, his stoppages tend to come on the mat following takedowns. Meanwhile, “MVP” has scored 12 knockouts within his 20 wins, typically stopping his opponents on the feet.
In fact, four of the victories on the Briton’s current six-fight win streak have come via KO/TKO, and the run started following his own sole loss as a pro – a knockout by Douglas Lima.
Lima, a former three-time Bellator welterweight champion, beat Page in the semi-finals of the promotion’s 2019 grand prix at 170lbs, before going on to claim the belt in the final. Page fought his way back to Lima and overcame the Brazilian, who had by then lost the title again, via split decision in October. As such, Page established himself as No 1 contender.
While he is not accustomed to failure in mixed martial arts, the Londoner has a very mature perspective on it.
“I understand that failure is a part of success,” he says. “I was more just annoyed at myself for some of the decisions that I made during the first fight [against Lima].
“I always give myself a minute to just be p****d off at myself or the situation. Then it’s done; go out and party. I was gonna celebrate by the end of it anyway, that I get to do this for a living!
“I feel like I’ve got a group of friends, family and teammates around, where I feel comfortable being in that upset state. A lot of people feel they have to put on a facade, a mask. You might even run with that, but you haven’t actually settled it with yourself. That can burn away at you later on.
“I’m like: Let’s just settle this s*** now. ‘This is annoying. What the hell? Why did I do that?’ Be upset, frustrated, tears will come... Am I done? Okay, cool. Now how do we get back to where we want to be?”
Page got back to where he wanted to be with five straight wins, before edging past Lima. The wait for the judges’ scorecards was “torturous”, he admits, but ended with Page’s hand being raised.
Now Storley stands between Page and the title, if just the interim belt, while Amosov serves his under-siege country.
At 35, Page may not have many more chances to hold the gold. It is one of the only in-ring achievements left for the Briton, who also has goals outside of fighting.
Page has written a script for a potential television series, though he remains tight-lipped on the project, but he also has ambitions to affect the education system in areas important to him.
“MVP”, who is trying to set up a school with rapper Big Narstie, credits youth centres during his time growing up with “inspiring creativity and goals” and encouraging children not to be “idle”.
For Page, time spent in such environments marked the first step on his path to mixed martial arts. On Friday night, he takes his most important step in the sport so far.