There are very few fighters over the last couple of years who have been outright signed to the UFC without being a short notice call up, or a competitor on Dana White’s Contender Series.
Modestas Bukauskas is one of those rare signees.
Bukauskas will make his octagon debut at Wednesday night’s UFC on ESPN 13 event on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi against fellow debutante Andreas Michailidis. The former Cage Warriors light heavyweight champion was originally scheduled to face Vinicius Moreira the Brazilian fighter was forced out of the bout following a positive COVID-19 test.
Ahead of his promotional debut, Bukauskas has won his last six fights, finishing all of them. Following his first-round TKO win over Riccardo Nosiglia in his first CW title defense at Cage Warriors 111 in November, the 26-year-old Bukauskas was hoping that life-changing call would come. It finally did.
“Initially, I had loads of talks with my manager and we were actually thinking of going on the Contender Series,” Bukauskas told MMA Fighting while appearing on What the Heck. “We thought that was a straight route to get there, to raise my stock. He had talks with the matchmakers and such.
“So, I drink a lot of water—maybe 6 liters a day—and I wake up in the middle of the night to take a pee and I look at my phone to see I had five missed calls from my manager. Usually he doesn’t call me unless it’s something really important. Didn’t even consider that it could be something from the UFC.
“That happened at the beginning of the year (in January),” Bukauskas continued. “We finally announced it properly on Jan. 16. It was already known and a lot of people were messaging me saying I would be on that London card (in March), but I already knew ages before that I would not be fighting on that card unless it was a last minute thing. They were planning something for the summer.”
After winning his first four pro fights, Bukauskas entered 2016 with a lot of momentum. It would become the year that propelled him into the fighter he is today after suffering back-to-back first round finishes.
Bukauskas would return nearly two years later with a new hunger and perspective on the sport. Those two losses confirmed to him that nothing is for certain. When the call to the UFC came and it went down the way that it has, it’s something he is truly grateful for.
“I’m actually very glad that I got signed the way I did and at the time that I did,” Bukauskas said. “From what I know, there was only five guys that were signed like I was last year, the rest were from the Contender Series. This year it was myself, [Jiri Prochazka], Manel Kape, and you don’t hear of many people that just get signed out of the blue to a contract without it being last minute.
“It’s sort of expected now. Guys get signed if there’s a last minute call up, that’s the prime time. To get something like that, I feel very privileged and honored to sign because it shows that they had interest in me.”
Initially, Bukauskas was getting set to make his debut against Moreira at the scheduled UFC San Diego card on May 16. It would’ve been the Gintas Combat standout’s first fight in the United States.
Despite not being able to check off a box on the career highlight checklist, being a part of the potential once-in-a-lifetime experience on Fight Island was a nice consolation prize.
“It would’ve been my American debut which I was really excited for,” Bukauskas explained. “Just as we signed the contract and everything was going through that’s when this whole bloody pandemic came about.
“At the end of the day, you couldn’t ask for a much better replacement than Yas Island in Abu Dhabi for a debut, on a historic event where you literally have to go completely out of the way to make it happen. You have to give credit to Dana White for persevering and overcoming these terrible situations.”
With his father as head coach—who happens to have a gym in his house—the pandemic hasn’t slowed Bukauskas down at all. In fact, he feels as if the quarantine times have helped him evolve into an even better fighter than we’ve seen through his last six fights.
Michailidis is no stranger to keeping things out of the judges’ hands. “The Spartan” enters his octagon debut with three straight first-round finishes, and five out of six in promotions such as Titan FC, Fight Nights Global and Final Fight Championship.
Regardless of who stands across from him on Wednesday night, Bukauskas is expecting a short night at his brand new office.
“I envision a very aggressive and vicious performance on my behalf,” Bukauskas stated. “I feel like the mindset that I have, the work that I’ve put in, the training that I’ve done, I’ve come out with this new way to embrace these chaotic situations—the ones that are supposed to make you scared.
“I feel that I’m going to severely hurt him from standup and just really dishearten him. I predict that I’m going to knock him out in the first round. Eventually, I’m gonna land those shots and, when they do, they’re going to hurt. That’s what I predict for the fight.”