“In a sport, you expect things like this to happen.”
That was Kyle Daukaus’ reaction when asked about the three facial fractures he incurred in his June loss to Roman Dolidze, echoing sentiments he shared soon after the bout on Instagram. That mentality and unflinching acceptance of needing to undergo a surgical procedure where two plates were inserted into his face and mesh netting was molded to his eye socket to help reset another fracture tell you everything need to know about the tenacious middleweight from Philadelphia.
“My biggest concern was fighting again,” explained Daukaus, who does just that on Saturday in Orlando in a matchup with veteran Eryk Anders. “Going into the doctor’s office, I didn’t think I was going to be able to fight for probably a year.”
Instead, the surgeon told the 29-year-old that he could be back in the gym in six-to-eight weeks, provided everything went smoothly, which it did.
Daukaus tacked on a couple additional weeks of recovery time following the procedure to ensure everything was healed and he was mentally prepared to step back into the gym and return to getting punched in the face for a living.
Initially, he wore a face shield similar to the mask worn by former Detroit Pistons guard Richard Hamilton, but quickly abandoned the additional covering, not wanting to get comfortable wearing protective gear that wouldn’t be available to him on fight night. Once he removed the shield and was ready to go live for the first time, he looked to his big brother, UFC heavyweight Chris Daukaus, to be the first one to hit him with a clean, honest-to-goodness shot in the mug.
“He was the first person to land a shot on me because he was the only person that I really trusted to where if he landed a shot on me and something happened and I stopped, he’d give me a break,” the younger Daukaus said with a laugh.
“My hands were down, I walked forward, and he hit me. We took a slight pause, and I was like, ‘That felt fine; let’s get going’ and we got going.”
Now, less than six months after his face-shattering loss to Dolidze in Austin, Texas, this past summer, Daukaus is poised to return, excited by the fact that he gets to share the Octagon with Anders, and eager to close out the year on a positive note.
“I was actually very surprised that that was the name they gave me because he’s a veteran and because he’s known,” he said of the pairing with Anders, a former college football standout who has struggled to find consistent results after beginning his career with 10 straight wins. “I just lost to a guy that not many people knew about that is now on a tear, so I was very surprised they had Anders placed against me as an opponent, but when I look at his record, I understand why.
“He’s on a two-fight losing streak and I’m on a one-fight losing streak, so I think that’s how they matched us up,” continued Daukaus, who has gone 2-3 with one no contest through his first six UFC appearances. “He’s on a losing streak, I’m losing, as well, and that’s where we’re at in our careers, so we’re meeting each other.
“I was surprised that they gave me him just because he has a name and he’s known — he’s main evented against guys and fought a ton of great names. It’s very surprising, but I can’t be too caught up on that, either — I have to just go in there and imagine it’s another 0-0 guy that I’m going against.”
Obviously, neither Daukaus nor Anders is actually 0-0 heading into this weekend’s matchup at Amway Center, but that’s the way the dangerous grappler and former CFFC middleweight champ Daukaus looks at each and every fight: as if he’s a debuting fighter, stepping into the cage for the first time, eager to leave the arena with a 1-0 mark.
“I think that has mentally helped me, rather than just dwelling on the losses I’ve had,” explained the tall, lanky middleweight, who also uses journaling and Post-It Notes stationed around the house to help clear his mind and remind him of his goals. “I can focus on being 0-0, going in there, and being 1-0 by the end of the night.”
While you’ll hear a lot of athletes speak in similar terms, few are rarely as willing to delve into the reasoning behind the mindset as the thoughtful Daukaus.
“I think it helps me throughout fight camps just because it doesn’t let me get lazy,” he explained. “A lot of these guys start winning and they start getting lazy, and that’s why I don’t do it.
“I don’t want to be stagnant and lazy in the gym. I want to know that regardless of anything, I have to go out there and win. I know that, but it’s a little extra push when I tell myself I have to be 1-0 on December 4 after fighting Eryk Anders.
“That’s the mindset I have every single day, and it helps me because it brings me back to the very beginning, to when I just turned professional, and that grind that I had.”
That drive produced nine consecutive victories at the start of his professional career, including a win early in Season 3 of Dana White’s Contender Series, which eventually translated into a call to compete on the biggest stage in the sport.
Although it has yet to translate into a string of positive results, Daukaus isn’t deterred by setbacks like the one he experienced in June.
“I can’t go in there and expect to win every single fight,” he said matter-of-factly. “I have to control what I can control every single fight, and that night was a bad night. I’ve had bad nights prior, but losing isn’t something that is different or unfamiliar to me.
“When I was an amateur, I lost a ton, and I lost in high school and stuff like that. I know what losing is like, I know how to deal with it, and I’ve dealt with it well every single time”
And just as he’s not held back by the occasional negative result, you won’t find Daukaus espousing any “I’m just happy to be here” rhetoric this week, either, because while he is happy to be competing at this level and returning to action this weekend, he still has much bigger goals to chase down.
“I had the idea of being out for a year, but I never thought I would never be able to fight again,” he said. “Obviously my wife, and I’m sure my family, maybe thought that, but I wasn’t getting into that mindset. I’m not getting into that sad thing where I want everyone to think about me like I feel bad for myself.
“I’m very thankful for where I am in life and being in the UFC, but being in the UFC wasn’t my ultimate goal — my ultimate goal was being UFC champion,” he added. “I still have that goal set and that drive to get there, and I wasn’t going to let a couple breaks in my face stop me from getting to where I want to be.”
UFC Fight Night: Thompson vs Holland took place live from the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida on December 3, 2022. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!