ONE of Bolton’s premier fighters is living the American dream – and he refuses to believe anyone can give him a rude awakening.

Earlier this year, Saul Rogers returned to the cage after more than two years out, easing to a unanimous victory over Aiden Lee in his first fight for one of the world’s biggest MMA promoters, Bellator.

And after taking out the dangerous Lee in Birmingham, the Farnworth-based rising star was selected to enter the Bellator Featherweight World Grand Prix, a 16-man knockout tournament that pits some of the planet’s finest featherweights against each other.

Despite keeping such exalted company, 29-year-old Rogers – who has been preparing for the competition at his training camp in the USA – is relishing the chance to fight for a title, with his first-round match set for this Saturday, in Inglewood, California.

“I’ve been doing my training camps and the training has been unbelievable but I’ve been away from my family, my kids, for three months or more” he told The Bolton News. “That has been tough but I know I have to make these sacrifices.

“It paid off when I got back into action in May, I’d been out for two years and two months and when I fought I dominated every second of the match. He [Lee] was a really awkward southpaw but there wasn’t a scratch on me.

“I was feeling so sharp, my striking has improved massively and I believe in my heart and my soul you will see knockouts from me in the future.

“I’m a smart fighter, I can strike hard and fast, I can wrestle and dominate opponents that way. I can take a fighter in any way he wants it to go.”

The Bellator tournament is sure to test every aspect of the man formerly nicknamed ‘Tha Hangman’, due to his expertise in applying chokeholds.

In a bid to become the complete fighter, Rogers – now going by the name ‘It’s Saul Business’ – has worked on his striking prowess and mat wrestling.

Little wonder, then, he is supremely confident as he prepares to face German Daniel Weichel in his first outing.

“It’s going to be difficult, the best 16 fighters on Bellator are involved,” he said. “There are champions, ex-champions, up-and-comers, every one is a high-quality fighter, they compete at such a high level, but I’m not nervous, nerves aren’t really for me.

“I think Daniel is the most experienced fighter in the tournament. That’s fine, they’ve given me a good fighter first up but the way I’m feeling, the way training has gone, I’m looking forward to getting in there and dominating.

“I’ve got my eyes on the prize and I’m ready to go.”

Rogers’ win against Lee took his official professional record to 13-2, though that does not take into account a further four victories in the States.

All of which came after a hugely successful amateur career around Britain, the USA and Japan.

Rogers’ American dream did once turn into something of a nightmare, as in 2015 he reached the final of a prestigious Ultimate Fighter tournament, and was set to take on Artem Lobov, a man he had already registered a victory over.

However, an expired visa meant he was forced to withdraw from a final he felt sure he would win.

But none of his current – and future – success comes without a cost. Rogers is often away from family life in Bolton for months when in training camp.

The opportunity to work with greats such as ‘The Menace’ Michael Johnson, as he did before facing Lee, is one he was never likely to pass up, but it means going for significant periods without seeing his partner Nicola and children.

“It’s a good three-month stint when you go into a training camp, and I love it out here – the training, the lifestyle and the routine,” he said. “The plan is to commit 12 months of my life to it, maybe buy a house here.

“I’m hoping I can get another fight in before Christmas, if I can do that then I can enjoy Christmas with my family, because they suffer, I’ve got Nicola and young kids who I miss and who miss me when I’m away.

“But life is about sacrifices, it’s what I know I need to do to be at my best, and I know it’ll be worth it because I’m guaranteeing I’m going to be a world champion one day.

“The career of an MMA fighter is a short one so you’ve got to give it everything you’ve got. The worst thing would be for me to look back and regret not doing absolutely everything I needed to do to succeed.

“We are all highly motivated and I believe the ones making the most sacrifices are the ones who will reap the most rewards.

“I’m confident ahead of this, and once I win it I won’t be content with one title, this is just a beginning.”

Should his career hit the heights he is aiming for, it will be a huge turnaround in his life.

He admits he was a tearaway growing up, and was in real danger of winding up on life’s scrapheap.

Now the premier MMA fighter is four fights away from the Bellator world title and a seven-figure purse.

“When I was coming up on the streets I was unruly, I admit that,” he added. “I was out of control but I found something to channel my energy, I had some guidance and it taught me discipline, it turned my life around.

“At one time I had no car, no money, I was counting on getting a contract with the UFC but, two months before I had an important fight I got cut and that dream was over.

“People deal with adversity, with the stresses of life, I’ve had so much stuff on my shoulders that I think most people wouldn’t be able to handle.

“But I’ve always kept, working, kept training and believing in myself, I’ve never let adversity get me down, it’s been a real journey for me.“I speak about this a lot of the time, I have no problem telling people about my past, when I was sleeping on friends’ couches, when I had nothing. Some people are surprised I’m still alive, never mind going into a tournament figh

ting for a million.

“It’s a rags-to-riches story, and I’ve always stayed true to myself and turned my life around, now I’m fighting for a good future.

“I’ve never had anything given to me but I want to use my experiences to motivate youngsters who could be going down the wrong path, like I was.

“As the years have gone on I believe drug use and homelessness are increasingly-important problems, they are massive issues.

“I don’t want kids to make nothing of their lives, that’s a real passion of mine too.”

And if he can apply the same dedication this Saturday, the rest of the world will surely sit up and take notice.

Watch Bellator 228: Pitbull vs. Archuleta live on Sky Sports Action from 3am on Sunday