Modestas Bukauskas explains emotional road from dark places to ‘second chance’ with the UFC


Modestas Bukauskas got his second chance with the UFC, but it didn’t come easy.

Bukauskas won a pair for Cage Warriors after he lost to Khalil Rountree in October 2021. In December, he regained the title of light heavyweight champion. Now, in his third fight post-surgeries, Bukauskas got the call to step in on short notice to face Tyson Pedro this Saturday at UFC 284.

The recovery time prior to his Cage Warriors return left Bukauskas in a dark place, even getting to the point to full-on erasing his white dry-erase board with all of his professional goals. But once the cap came off of the marker, things went full speed ahead for “The Baltic Warrior.”

” I was recovering and ended up having a second surgery,” Bukauskas explained to MMA Fighting. That was the moment that stopped everything. Because I felt like getting drunk, most of the time, it was to escape from the reality of the world. It was all I wanted, which isn’t a good thing. I am not proud and it wasn’t something I liked, but it meant I was not being me.

“As the recovery started building, when I started seeing progress in my leg and saw that it was getting better, that’s when I started writing down my goals again. I could get my extension back, I could do squats, put more pressure on it every single day, the progressions were massive, the checkpoints were getting ticked off and I started writing things back on the board.

“Momentum is everything. After being down and down for a while, I found my way back up. That momentum brought be back to the UFC for my third fight. It was this way that the journey began .”


Bukauskas’ first stint in the UFC ended with a 1-3 record, including three straight losses. Following his release, Bukauskas spoke with MMA Fighting and vowed to return to the promotion in due time — which led to fans thinking he was, perhaps, a bit overly optimistic.

That didn’t stop Bukauskas, who turned 30 on Friday, from accomplishing his mission. After over a year away from competition, Bukauskas earned a decision win over Lee Chadwick at Cage Warriors 145 this past November — a performance he admits wasn’t his best. Bukauskas made a return to the cage a little more than a month later, finishing Chuck Campbell with a stunning right hand knockout. He became a two-time champion of light heavyweight at Cage Warriors 148 New Year’s Eve.

With hopes of getting on the short list for a UFC return call, Bukauskas found himself in a position where he believed he would have to keep climbing that ladder to get back on the radar. After a Facetime conversation with Jason House, his manager, things changed quickly.

“[My manager] contacted me mid-day [in January] to inform me that Cage Warriors wanted to fight me for my belt to defend it in March. I thought, ‘Well, if my path to the UFC hasn’t been paved, then I’m not going to mind bagging another person to do so,'” Bukauskas said to MMA Fighting. “At that point, I had my 20 seconds of [sadness], but I went to training, and I have to drive an hour and 20 minutes to get there, so I get a call on my way home — and I live in the middle of nowhere, people think I live in the middle of Narnia, or Hogwarts, or something.

” I’m about five minutes from the spot where the signal goes off and get the Facetime call. I’m not sure why but it was so important that I literally drove to the side road. He seemed to be going to tell me that my Cage Warriors opponent had declined to fight. But then, he asks, “What is your weight?” I replied, “I’m not fat, but I’m pretty fit, around 220 pounds.” The next thing he says was, ‘You’re fighting in Australia in two weeks time,’ and I was like, ‘No way, don’t tell me this is the call.’ That was probably the more emotional phone call than the first one. I was genuinely in tears.”

After climbing out of one of the darkest holes of his career, Bukauskas was back in the UFC, and he basked in the moment with a lot of reflection with his manager, remembering the countless bumps in the road — which was a sentiment he shared with his parents shortly thereafter.

” I just kept repeating to him that we did it. I can’t believe all the crap we had to go through to get here,’ it was from the most raw, and deepest emotion,’ Bukauskas said.

“I rushed to get back home because my dad and my stepmom Rose are still awake. So I’m listening to this f****** warrior music, bass booming in my car, and I’m going mad, just screaming for five minutes to get to my house. I get out of the car, run up to the house out of breath and I say, ‘Rose, I need to tell you something,’ and she thought something was wrong.

“So, I went to my father’s bedroom and said, “Dad. I have something to say to you.” He rolled over [half asleep] and asked, “What’s the f*** are you going to tell me?” My body is hurting from a hard day’s work.

“He snatches himself from bed, and the rest of us are in the living room. I said, “We’re back at the UFC baby,” and they all began crying. But that moment just gave me even more motivation, more determination. Crazy, crazy times.”

While some people in Bukauskas’ position might be content with being in the top MMA promotion in the world and seeing the bout as a way to make money, Bukauskas won’t.

Instead, he’s looking at it as an opportunity to do what he was supposed to do the first time around, and to get to share the octagon with a fighter like Pedro — who had his own issues with injuries and layoffs throughout his career — Bukauskas is aiming towards writing his next chapter in a memorable way.

“I’m going in there to win,” Bukauskas explained. I’m not just going to take part. This is the second opportunity I have been waiting for. All of the aspects that I have been struggling with — both my physical and mental — are now in my control. This is why I put all my effort into it. I’m not going in there to try and get by.

“I know that Tyson Pedro is going to give me everything he’s got. What’s the best part? I’m going to give him everything that I’ve got with the most vicious intensity. To give him the absolute best performance possible, I will literally do whatever it takes to get there. I’m going out there to finish Pedro, but that’s what I’m there to do.”