He wouldn’t fight in a mixed martial arts bout again for nearly two years.
“There were a lot of things that needed changing that the losses helped to highlight,” Bukauskas said. “Looking back at everything, I’m actually very grateful for the downs that I had. There were a lot of tough situations that I had to go through, but that’s what inevitably led to me doing so well now.”
But to come back up, there were still more downs to weather. Bukauskas went back to Louisiana, not just to see his then-girlfriend, but to train and get his head straight. One day, he threw a roundhouse kick that he had probably thrown thousands of times over the course of his life, but this time it resulted in a torn meniscus. All eyes were on him once more.
“Her whole family turned their back on me,” said Bukauskas of his then-girlfriend. Then she asked that question.
“How long are you going to keep doing this fighting thing for?”
“I’m gonna do it until I’m UFC champion. There ain’t no stopping me.”
After five years together, that was that. But then he also lost a sponsor who’s help was allowing him to train full-time. Bukauskas returned to London.
“I had no money, no job, an injured leg, lost a girlfriend, lost a sponsor,” he said. “And I was sitting in my room thinking to myself, ‘What am I gonna do with my life?’”
That’s when he had the clearest thought yet. He was a fighter. He was going to fight.
“That was when I really had to start rebuilding everything,” said Bukauskas, who decided to move from middleweight to light heavyweight. When he got healthy, his father got him in the ring sparring with pro boxers, which cleared up a mental hurdle that he felt hindered him previously.
“I learned that I need to go and hurt these people and not just win,” he said. “When you have the mentality that you just got to win, I don’t think it’s enough because there’s a level of aggression that needs to be put in there, and if you don’t have it, you’re not gonna go far.”
His close circle of friends and family got even closer, and then…
“Slowly things started getting better.”
Bukauskas took a kickboxing fight which he won in the first round, and in March 2018, he was back on Cage Warriors cards. And he hasn’t tasted defeat since, going 6-0 with six finishes, a stretch that also earned him the promotion’s 205-pound title.
That run of success had him thinking about a UFC contract, but he assumed he would have to earn one through Dana White’s Contender Series. That was just fine with him, but at 1am one night / morning in mid-January, Bukauskas got a text from manager Jason House. Up at 3am for a trip to the bathroom, he decided to make the call to California.
“How do you feel about fighting in the UFC?” asked House.
“What? No way,” responded Bukauskas, who continued with the “no way” response for a little longer.
“I was going crazy,” he laughs. “I literally said ‘no way’ like a parrot for the next minute. I was dumbfounded.”
But he was all-in. And there would be no going back to bed after that.
“There was no way I was going to sleep on that news,” said Bukauskas, who told his proud father a few hours later.
“He had the cheesiest grin you could ever imagine. He was smiling like a Cheshire cat from ear to ear. It was like he expected it.”
Oh yeah, it’s been a crazy road, all right. All that’s left is for Bukauskas to show his wares in the Octagon, a moment he expects to arrive this summer. In the meantime, he works, he prepares, and he’s getting ready to show just who he is.
“We’ve gotta keep working hard and keep trying to get better,” he said. “I’m looking to really make a statement in the UFC and finally show my full potential.”
Main photo via @brettkingphotography_77 on Instagram
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