MODESTAS BUKAUSKAS returned to the UFC last month with the weight of the world on his shoulders.
The Baltic Gladiator returned to the octagon against Tyson Pedro on the UFC 284 prelims in Perth, Australia in February – nearly 16 months after being released by mixed martial arts‘ premier promotion.
Very few fighters make it back to the UFC after having the axe wielded on them – and those that do are, understandably, a bag of nerves when they return.
That, however, wasn’t the case for Lithuanian-born Brit Bukauskas.
The 29-year-old told SunSport: “There were less nerves, bro. It was weird, I felt so comfortable in there. I guess it was, again, going along the same lines thinking that I was supposed to be there.
“I genuinely felt the calmest I’ve felt in my last three fights in that fight. Walking out, I just embraced the crowd.”
The remarkable composure Bukuaskas showed under immense pressure, however, didn’t solely come from the mental fortitude he’s developed during his octagon hiatus.
It was also the by-product of spiritual intervention on the biggest night of his professional career.
He said: “I remember saying specifically to my dad, because his parents passed away awhile ago, and I basically said to him, ‘Listen, my grandparents are watching over us right now.’
“‘They’re giving us energy.’ I said, ‘I feel that strength.’ And as soon as I had that, almost, epiphany-type moment, I looked into the crowd and I was like, ‘I f***ing love this.'”
“When they announced my name, it was like all the built-up pressure and emotion I just let it out with a scream.”
The outpouring of emotion didn’t stop after Bukuaskas left the octagon, it continued right until the moment he was alone backstage with devoted dad and trainer Gintas.
He continued: “I went backstage to do my interview with John Gooden and I just sat there and I just hugged my dad.
“Because what we’ve been through, from where we were 16 months ago – which is such a short space of time to do what we’ve done.
“To get that win in the UFC, in enemy territory against a very credible opponent, very tough – [my] toughest opponent to date.
“Everything that had built up there, I just let it out. And me and my dad just shared a very emotional moment, just me and him hugging each other.
“Because he knows what I’ve been through. He’s seen me crying in my room, he’s seen me at my highest and at my lowest. And to be back on that high again. It was a very good moment.”
Bukauskas was hoping for a domestic dust-up with Scotland’s Paul Craig at the recently-passed UFC 286 in London.
A spot on the first pay-per-view on UK soil in nearly seven years, however, didn’t materialise for the Baltic Gladiator.
But could get his wish to fight on home turf in July, which SunSport understands is the month the UFC is targeting another visit to London’s O2 Arena.
One thing, however, is for sure Bukauskas: he pans to be a busy man for the remainder of 2023.
He said: “I’m ready to fight at least three times this year. I want to stay active. I’m at the peak of my athletic abilities and my skillset can only get better.
“And I want to keep the momentum rolling. I’ve got a lot of momentum now. Three wins in the space of three months. I want to keep that momentum going.
“Whenever that call comes in from my manager, I’ll be ready.”