Modestas Bukauskas (14-5 MMA, 2-3 UFC) put a stamp on his return to the UFC when he defeated Tyson Pedro (9-4 MMA, 5-4 UFC) via unanimous decision in enemy territory at UFC 284 in Perth, Western Australia.
The deck was stacked against Bukauskas as he prepared for his second stint with the UFC: He took the fight on short notice against an Australian in Perth as a moderate underdog. Bukauskas actually opened as a +700 underdog to Pedro’s -1000 before the lines moved considerably down to Pedro being a -200 or so favorite. Being in tough spots is the “story” of his career, he said.
“Literally, I don’t think there’s been many fights where I’ve been the favorite, aside from a couple,” Bukauskas told MMASucka. “It’s sort of like the theme of most of my career. When I fought Marthin Hamlet, I was going to lose and he was going to go to the UFC, and it ended up being the other way around. Especially here where I started off as a 10 to 1 underdog. I was like, ‘What the hell, these people think I’m a f—ing scrub!’ You know what I mean? What’s going on over here?”
Bukauskas took the fight on two weeks’ notice, and winning felt “absolutely amazing,” he said.
“It probably held a lot more weight because of the fact that everything was stacked so high against me. You need the traction, you need the attention, you need people to be interested. Like I said, it was such a tipping the scales out of my favor, to come out with a win, it makes people drawn more to the story. That’s amazing also in itself.”
Bukauskas’s road back to the UFC was a tough one. He was 1-3 in the Octagon after a TKO loss to Khalil Rountree that saw him suffer substantial knee damage after Rountree landed a side kick to the knee. Bukauskas was released by the UFC and found himself as a free agent.
“The Baltic Gladiator,” a Lithuanian ex-pat living in England, signed with Cage Warriors – the promotion where he became a champion after beating Hamlet and getting signed to the UFC after a title defense against Riccardo Nosiglia. Bukauskas won his first fight back with the promotion against Lee Chadwick and then defeated Chuck Campbell to become a two-time Cage Warriors light heavyweight champion.
When Pedro’s original UFC 284 opponent, Mingyang Zhang, withdrew, Bukauskas got the call.
“Considering the road that we have been through, and obviously to do it in such a quick turnaround of events, 16 months from having one of the worst injuries in MMA and being cut from the UFC to being re-signed to the UFC, winning a Cage Warriors belt again, I almost felt like I had deja vu,” Bukauskas said. “This time, we’re much more clued up. We’re going to do things right. It definitely feels a lot more amazing this time around, especially going into enemy territory.”
Bukauskas said he has gotten messages of support after his win, which he said was “absolutely amazing.” A lot of people told him his story is inspirational. Bukauskas said one of his goals is to inspire people who find themselves in tough spots – like he was after the Rountree loss.
“One guy was telling me how he had a bad operation, and this is giving him strength and motivation to want to push through and recover. That means a lot to me,” he said. “You want to leave your mark on the world, right? This is my way of leaving my mark on the world: by showing people that no matter what the adversity, you can come through it. That being said, it’s quite an amazing moment, but I know there’s a hell of a lot more work to be done. I’m happy. I’m elated, but I’m also ready to get back to work.”
Bukauskas defeated Pedro with judges’ scorecards of 30-27, 29-28 and 29-28.
The Lithuanian Englishman said his mindset is one of his most improved factors from his first UFC run.
“I was very present in the moment when I fought [Pedro],” he said. “This is something I didn’t experience the first time around, I don’t feel. I felt like I was there, actually present in the moment, which was a big thing. It allowed me to perform and let loose.”
Bukauskas said he is also switching his stances more effectively, making better decisions in the cage and showing a more positive mindset.
“Even IQ, putting my combinations together, better range finding,” he said. “You saw hints of my defense on the floor as well. I was able to get back up my feet. Even if [Pedro] didn’t roll for that toe hold, I still would’ve managed to get back up to my feet. These are things that I’ve been working tirelessly on. Even then, I didn’t really show off the grappling side too much, since I was winning with the stand-up … There are a lot of things I added to my game, and it’s definitely going to show even moreso in future fights. I’m very excited to do that. I’m glad people noticed my improvements, and I’m keen to show more.”
Bukauskas, despite fighting in Pedro’s home country, felt confident he would get the judges’ decision because he outlanded him in total strikes.
“When Bruce Buffer said ‘by unanimous decision,’ I was very confident I was going to get the decision,” he said. “I was just waiting for my name to be called. Like, ‘they should definitely give it to me.’ If it was a split decision, I would’ve been like, ‘Ff…But this is a bit iffy. I hope they sway it my way.’ The fact it was unanimous, to me, it calmed me down a little bit, because I generally knew at that point, if I lost the first round, I still would’ve won rounds 2 and 3.”
Bukauskas has fought three times in the past three months. He is looking to make it four bouts in four months.
“Momentum is everything in this game. If you’ve got good momentum, you keep the ball rolling.”
If I can get on that London card, that would be absolutely amazing. I would love to do that. I leave it in the hands of the MMA gods whether that will happen or not. Either way, bro, whatever happens, I will be ready for whatever the next venture will be. Of course, I want to stay active. Momentum is amazing right now, and I would love to keep it going.”
Bukauskas would love to keep it going at UFC 286, particularly. The card, featuring the deciding trilogy between UFC welterweight champion Leon Edwards and Kamaru Usman, is scheduled for March 18 from the O2 Arena in London, England.
And he was quick to name his preferred foe: the No. 10-ranked UFC light heavyweight.
“Paul Craig. I’ve mentioned it before. He’s ranked a lot higher, but he’s the U.K. No. 1., and I’m the U.K. No. 2 at light heavyweight. That would be an amazing match-up to determine who’s the best U.K. light heavyweight. It’ll be interesting for the fans and an all British affair. Technically, I’m Lithuanian, but I’ve been brought up in London most of my life. I think it’d be entertaining and interesting for the fans, stylistically. That’s sort of what I would like to do. Whether it happens, who knows? But I think it’d be a great match-up.”
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