It was an offer to headline the final UFC card of the year against two-time title challenger Derrick Lewis in a fight that could potentially serve as a launching pad into championship contention. And Daukaus was obviously happy with the surprise.
“I didn’t think I would get someone of Derrick Lewis’ caliber and stature in the division,” Daukaus told MMA Fighting ahead of UFC Vegas 45. “In my career and the way that my professional life has played out, I’ve gotten really good matchups. I think this is another really good matchup. It’s something that I want.
“I didn’t get in this sport to just say I’m a fighter. I want to fight against the best guys in the world, and Derrick Lewis obviously is one of the best people in the world at mixed martial arts. I’m really excited to test myself against someone of his skill level, a person of his stature in this MMA community that we all share. So it will certainly be fun.”
One attribute that has defined Daukaus’ brief 4-0 career with the UFC beyond his four consecutive knockouts has been the way he’s able to move around the cage with the kind of speed and footwork usually reserved for smaller weight classes.
While he’s not the biggest fighter in the division, Daukaus has been able to use his movement as both an offensive and defensive weapon, which keeps him out of trouble, and still deliver fight-ending shots to his opponents.
That could be a particularly useful weapon against Lewis, who has struggled at times with fighters who aren’t willing stand in the pocket with him and trade bombs. But then again, Daukaus likes his chances against most heavyweights who are unable to keep up with him.
“If we’re being honest, I’m a bad matchup for 99 percent of the heavyweights in the division,” Daukaus said. “Think of everyone who fights in the division, there’s very few that move like me.
“It’s me, Tom Aspinall, and Ciryl [Gane]. That’s pretty much it. You can throw Stipe [Miocic] into the mix, his output is ridiculous. If people want to do a bad style matchup on Derrick’s part, that’s on him.”
For all the ways that Lewis isn’t known for being the most nimble fighter at heavyweight, he still possesses the ultimate equalizer — the kind of one-punch knockout power that can separate anybody from consciousness in a split second.
There have been several times when Lewis was down on the scorecards or maybe not having his best night at the office, yet he still walked away victorious because he lowered the boom on an opponent foolish enough to trade punches with him.
“You can dance around in front of Derrick Lewis for 14 minutes and 30 seconds and he lands one of those bombs and you’re going to sleep. That’s just how it is,” Daukaus said. “You always have to be switched on when you’re fighting Derrick Lewis. You can’t have any kind of lapse in mental judgment. ‘Am I going to go? Am I not going to go? Am I moving?’ You’re either 100 percent in or 100 percent out, there’s no in between. Because he will end you in a single shot, and you’ll be looking at it for the rest of your life on highlight reels. That’s something everyone is trying to avoid, but few have avoided it.
“That’s what I love about heavyweight MMA. That’s what I love and what I hate about heavyweight MMA. The most skilled fighter doesn’t win every time. You just have to be on the whole time. That’s what I try and do every time.”
If he’s able to avoid Lewis’ power, deliver another finish of his own and earn a fifth straight win in the UFC, Daukaus will undoubtedly find himself on the precipice of title contention in 2022.
The only problem are the murky waters at the top of the division, with a title unification bout between Francis Ngannou and Ciryl Gane scheduled for UFC 270 in January, along with former champions Stipe Miocic and Jon Jones both calling for the next opportunity to compete for gold.
Beating Lewis should put Daukaus into that same conversation, but he’s not going to lose any sleep worrying about a situation that’s completely out of his control, especially as he seeks to remain as busy as possible going into next year.
“At the top, there’s a logjam of everyone. That’s why I really try not to think about all of that,” Daukaus said. “If I have a fight, I try to stay focused on that, because I can’t control any of that. There’s no reason for me to put that energy out there, that I need think about what these other people are doing. I used do that. I used do that on the local circuit, like, ‘Who is the best guy? I need to fight this guy so I can get to this guy.’ As long as I keep getting fights and I perform when I have to perform, when it counts, that’s all I really care about.
“I wasn’t expecting to have that offer for Derrick Lewis and it certainly does fast-track me to the top,” he added. “There’s no apprehension as far as getting to the top. The only apprehension is a lack of fights. The only thing I’m concerned about is fighting afterwards. If everything goes well against Derrick Lewis, I just don’t want to be on the shelf. I want to be an active fighter. I want to be an active heavyweight. I want everyone to be excited about big fights and big knockouts, and how do you do that? You remain an active fighter.”