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‘UFC isn’t the be all and end all – Bellator look after me!’
Venue: Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, CT, United States Date: Friday 16 April
Coverage: Watch live on the BBC iPlayer from 22:45 BST

Saul Rogers was on the verge of hanging up his gloves when he received a life-changing contract offer from Bellator.

On Friday, he has a chance to prove he is among the promotion’s featherweight elite when he faces 10th-ranked Mads Burnell at Bellator 257, which will be streamed live from Connecticut on BBC iPlayer.

Denmark’s Burnell, 27, is one of European MMA’s rising stars, a status that Rogers commanded for many years.

Yet, just when the British fighter was about to fulfil all of his promise, his dreams of glory were ripped from his grasp.

‘My life was just chaotic’

In 2015, Manchester fighter, 31, had booked his place in the final of The Ultimate Fighter, a reality television series in which contestants compete for a Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) contract.

Living up to the hype, Rogers mowed through his competition as a member of guest coach Conor McGregor’s team, and the spotlight provided by MMA’s brightest star only added to the intrigue surrounding the British prospect.

With just one fight left to secure a deal with the UFC, Rogers discovered that an error on his visa application would not allow him to attempt to jump the final hurdle.

“My life was just chaotic,” Rogers told BBC Sport. “That thing with the UFC wasn’t even top three in my dramas. When I got the call from the lawyers saying, ‘You’re not fighting in the finale,’ I couldn’t even process that.”

Rogers fought three times over the next two years. After a shock defeat to Romanian Aurel Pirtea, a bout in which he suffered several injuries to his hand and arm, he considered leaving the sport.

“I prayed to the universe, ‘If this is for me, I want a definitive sign tomorrow.’ This was two days after my fight, I’m in a cast – broken arm, broken elbow, reattached ligaments in my thumb. The next day, a manager I’ve never heard of in my life rang me up … and within a week I had my Bellator contract.”

‘I see Mads as one of the best in the division’

Saul Rogers (right) grapples with Austria's Arbi Mezhidov during their fight in Paris last October
Rogers (right) took on Austria’s Arbi Mezhidov in Paris last October

Rogers immediately made an impact on his Bellator debut, dominating Aiden Lee, a highly rated British prospect.

After his positive introduction, Rogers was thrust into a tournament quarter-final bout against a perennial title contender, Daniel Weichel, which he narrowly lost.

“That fight with Weichel has been my biggest learning curve in all my MMA fights,” Rogers said. “That gave me belief because I used to put those guys on a pedestal.”

Burnell receiving a slot in the Bellator rankings ahead of Rogers has given him a point to prove.

Although he has already collected big wins on his record against the likes of UFC veterans Artem Lobov, Andre Winner, John Maguire and, most impressively, Ryan Hall, he expects Burnell to be one of his toughest tests.

With a victory, Rogers will underline his intentions for the featherweight title, which is held by one of the sport’s most dominant champions, Patricio ‘Pitbull’ Freire.

“I see Mads as one of the best in the division,” said Rogers. “If I beat this guy, people will be scratching their heads thinking, ‘This guy is the real deal’. With a win over him on Friday and a few more dominant wins, that title is right there.”

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