Modestas Bukauskas has hit more than his fair share of low points over 29 years on the planet, but this was rock bottom.
Not only did he lose his third straight UFC bout to Khalil Rountree Jr. in September of 2021 and was facing surgery for a serious knee injury, but then came the news that he was released from the promotion.
“As soon as the UFC cut me, it was probably one of the darkest moments in my life,” Bukauskas said. “You're trying to get back on a road of recovering the leg, and I was still in on crutches, but that got shut down and I’m thinking, ‘F**k, I just climbed to the top of the mountain and now I've rolled all the way back down to the bottom. What am I going to do now? It made me realize that, at the end of the day, people only care about winners.”
It was a crushing series of blows for a young man who is one of the most positive folks in a business not known for its optimism. It even hit his father and coach, Gintas, pretty hard…but only for a minute.
“When he saw me crying, when the UFC told me that I'm out, he started crying with me, but he almost got angry,” said Bukauskas of his dad’s reaction. “He's like, ‘Well, we just got to f**king train harder. We need to get better. We’re going to be back there. All you need to do is fix everything, figure out where we went wrong and get back at it. Simple as that.’ So my dad has never been the one to give up, and that's been a massive help in this whole process. He's been the guardian angel watching over me. It's like I have an angel in human form pushing me through the times where it's very easy to give up.”
At that moment, the comeback truly began in earnest. Of course, there was the little matter of the knee injury, not a tweak but something a lot more serious.
“It was the most painful surgery I've ever had in my life,” said Bukauskas. “My physio came to watch the operation so that she could see what had actually been done to it. And she said it looked like a fricking construction site. It was literally ligaments everywhere, artificial ligaments everywhere. They had plates and bolts. And she said it's the most complex operation she ever seen in her life. But thank God for the UFC for covering that operation and thank God for the amazing doctors that were able to do such an amazing job.”
Surgery done, that didn’t help the post-op pain, but after dealing with that, rehab, and the shock of his release from the UFC, it was time to get back down to business, and by April of last year, Bukauskas was back in the gym and looking to get into a fistfight.
That was a process in itself, but in November, he returned to the Cage Warriors promotion and got in three rounds in decisioning Lee Chadwick. A month later, he knocked out Chuck Campbell to regain the CW light heavyweight title. And soon, his phone was ringing with an offer to return to the UFC for a fight against Tyson Pedro that’s short notice with a long flight from London. Not that Bukauskas minds.
“I'm flying across the water to go and take this man's soul, and it's exciting,” he said. “So I think the flight there will just be full of excitement, really. And again, it's something that I understand is part of the process and you must embrace it because this is what I've wanted.”
The positive Modestas Bukauskas is back. But the last year-and-a-half did give him something to take into this weekend and beyond.
“Obviously, it's a very fickle game and I know that,” he said. “But what I will say is it just gave me a bit of darkness. I will always be polite. I will always be courteous, I'll always be humble, I will always be the same guy because that’s just who I am. I can't change who I am. However, it did bring that darkness out of me, which is what I need for fighting to perform at my best.”
UFC 284: Makhachev vs Volkanovski took place live from RAC Arena in Perth, Western Australia on February 11, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive all the action on UFC Fight Pass!