It was a classic year to forget for Modestas Bukauskas. Two fights, two losses, a release from the UFC and a serious knee injury that would sideline him for over a year.
Bukauskas doesn’t even recognize the 2021 version of himself.
“I'm a completely different person,” he said. “Not only as a fighter, but outside the cage, as well. Life is a constant game of learning and evolving. If you're staying in one place, you're not doing something right. But I feel like it gives me a very good prospect of what's to come, judging by the improvements that I've been making and the new outlook on life that I've been taking.”
What’s next on the agenda is a Saturday bout in Sao Paulo against Vitor Petrino. It’s another road trip, another fight against a local favorite in front of a crowd calling for his head. But after beating Tyson Pedro in Australia and Zac Pauga in the United States, the Lithuania native isn’t focused on the location, only his performance.
“The guys were booing me in Australia, and that was just a little taste of what's to come,” Bukauskas said. “I understand it's going to be on a much larger scale when I go out to Brazil, but I’ve got those true warrior vibes of gladiators getting booed because they're the guys that they don't want to win. And then next thing you know, they go out and put on an amazing, spectacular performance. That's how you win the crowd. So that's what I'm going out there to do.”
With a four-fight winning streak in his pocket heading into this week’s matchup, the 29-year-old Bukauskas is in a completely different place than he was in the dark days of 2021, but he hasn’t forgotten the moments and struggles that led him back to the status as one of the top prospects in the light heavyweight division.
“I had to go through that in order to be where I am today,” he said. “No matter which way you look at it, it was all part of God's plan. I wouldn't have been able to compete and do well in the UFC if it wasn't for what had happened before. Clearly, I wasn't ready. I needed to up my skillset, and the only way I was going to learn anything was if I had to have some really crappy things happen to me. So as much as you want to put it in the past, I actually use that as fuel and a fire and to say, you know what, that was actually a great thing and a great time for me.”
Of course, it took a long recovery process for his knee injury to start giving him some daylight, then a pair of wins in the Cage Warriors promotion earned him a short notice call back to the UFC to face Pedro. From there, it’s been all good vibes for “The Baltic Gladiator,” who uses facing an unbeaten prospect in his backyard as even more fuel to succeed. That, and knowing that Petrino hasn’t seen what he has to make it to Ginasio do Ibirapuera.
“There's always a chip on the shoulder,” said Bukauskas. “If you look at who the favorite is for this fight, it's the other guy. He's the young, up and coming guy, obviously fighting in his hometown, everything like that. Everyone expects energy to be high, and that gives me a sense of energy. I'm like, okay, so you think that you're going to go here in your hometown and you're going to be energetic and confident that you’re going to beat me. Well, you've got another thing coming.”
UFC Fight Night: Almeida vs Lewis took place live from Ibirapuera Arena in São Paulo, Brazil on November 4, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!