With a deep-running family heritage in the martial arts, it is no surprise that Cage Warriors light heavyweight champion, Modestas Bukauskas, is continuing the lineage that has come before him as he looks to create his own history on his journey to the pinnacle of the game. He intends to take the next, significant step towards his ultimate goal on Friday night when he faces the dangerous Italian, Riccardo Nosiglia, for his first title defence in the Indigo at the O2. Bukauskas (9-2) is one of three belt holders on the Cage Warriors 111 card and is looking to seize the opportunity to consolidate his position as one of the best in Europe after devoting his life to the sport.
“I got started doing martial arts when I was five years old as my dad started teaching me kickboxing and sambo,” said Bukauskas. “I entered my first kickboxing tournament when I was about eight so I was competing from quite a young age. It was pretty much my dad who got me started in MMA because he was a fighter back in the day. In fact, he was actually the Soviet Union ‘No Holds Barred’ heavyweight champion during his competitive days so he passed all of his knowledge onto me.”
“I was a four-time British kickboxing champion but then I took at bit of a lay off from about the age of thirteen where I didn’t really train properly,” Bukauskas continued. “Around that time, I was taking basketball very seriously and I went to America to play in high school at sixteen years of age. When I finished school over there, I came back home and my dad asked me if I wanted to get into the martial arts again. It was from that point onwards that all of my focus went into training.”
Bukauskas, who is originally from Lithuania but immigrated to England in search of better life chances, made his amateur MMA debut in 2012 and won his first three bouts before deciding to turn professional two and a half years later. By the end of 2015, he was already 4-0 inside the cage, picking up three knockout victories in the process and people were really starting to pay attention to the prospect. However, Bukauskas then went on to drop two straight fights and he was finished in both during the first round against UCMMA veteran, Pavel Doroftei, and Bellator fighter, John Redmond. He then didn’t compete for two years mostly due to an injury but this actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It allowed him to totally reevaluate his own game and make the necessary changes to propel his career to the next level.
“I got injured in 2016 which is why I took a considerable amount of time away from competition,” explained Bukauskas. “My meniscus was torn so I had to have an operation to fix that which comes with a lot of subsequent healing time. After the second fight that I lost, I knew there were a lot of things that we needed to work on so I really studied my own game as well. We had to take a step back and work on a load of different things including my boxing. There were certain aspects of my game that I needed to correct so that’s why I took a lot more time to come back. We wanted to make sure that I was 100% ready to fight so I could give a better reflection of what I was truly capable of.”
“When we eventually got back to the point where we were ready to fight, Cage Warriors couldn’t find an opponent for me so I went to do a kickboxing fight instead,” discussed Bukauskas. “Shortly after that bout, we managed to get something sorted for March 2018 which was when I returned to MMA. Also, during that time I took things a lot more seriously in terms of diet and nutrition which can have a big impact on how you eventually end up performing. There were so many things I added on top of my game during those two years which made me the fighter that I am today.”
All of the changes that he made in his time away from the cage definitely paid dividends as Bukauskas won four straight, finishing all of those victories. In one of those fights, he picked up his first professional submission win to further show that he was really rounding out his game and becoming a more complete martial artist. At Cage Warriors: Night of Champions, the light heavyweight was presented with his biggest opportunity to date as he took on the previously undefeated Norwegian prospect, Marthin Hamlet, for the vacant title.
During the first three rounds of the fight, Hamlet looked to utilize his wrestling pedigree to control Bukauskas and take him down to the mat. Bukauskas managed to work back to his feet on a number of occasions and landed some decent shots of his own but it appeared as though Hamlet was just edging ahead. However, at the beginning of the fourth frame, Bukauskas found his range and was effective in stifling his opponent with crisp punches. A tiring Hamlet was on the receiving end of a big right hand which dropped him to the canvas and Bukauskas followed up with a series of punches. The fight was over and the Lithuanian was the new Cage Warriors light heavyweight champion. Bukauskas was delighted with his performance and thought the fight played out as he predicted.
“I think I did very well against Hamlet and I feel as though it was my best performance to date,” revealed Bukauskas. “He was a very game and tough opponent who had a solid strategy but I knew from the day the fight got announced that mine would be better. Hamlet did manage to get me down which was the main thing I was trying to prevent. However, I was working a lot on my get-ups as well and they were successful. When he took me down, I got straight back up. It was all about finding my range, rhythm and distance on the feet. Due to that fight, my confidence is stepping up so now I’m really starting to feel and understand the game much better. It’s just setting me up for more explosive and impressive performances in the future.”
“I’d seen in his previous fights that he’d done very well against his opponents but he seemed to always tire,” continued Bukauskas. “If it went to the later rounds, I knew that my cardio and drilling which I was working on would have me in fantastic condition. I felt confident I could pick up the pace and get a second wind which you saw in the fight. In the fourth round, he was tired and I knew that the previous grappling exchanges had had an impact on his stamina. I grew more confident as the rounds went on but knew I had to do something to pick it up because I was probably down on the scorecards.”
When he was interviewed in the cage after getting his hand raised, Bukauskas immediately passed the spotlight over to his father who was by his side, as has been the case for his whole life. In one of the moments of the evening, the newly-crowned champion placed his belt upon his dad’s shoulder and made it known how grateful he was for all the years of support. Bukauskas confirmed that this wasn’t a spare of the moment action as he had been planning to use that moment to give his father a little something back in a sign of appreciation.
“I’d been visualizing that moment since the day the fight was announced,” acknowledged Bukauskas. “The amount of time, effort, sacrifice and emotion he’s put into me during my whole career has been amazing. I would not be where I am without him. My whole team is amazing and they do a great job of getting me to where I am but my dad has always been there for me. I’ve always had great self-belief but he’s constantly pushed me to get the best out of myself and I can’t thank him enough for that. I want to make him proud and feel like he is as much as a champion as I am. In my eyes, he’s the real title holder because at 50 years old, he’s been thrown around by me while I’ve been preparing for battle whether it hurts him or not. He’s an absolute soldier and that’s why I’m going to be the best. He will always be by my side and he is my constant inspiration.”
Since becoming the champion, Bukauskas made it known that his life hasn’t really changed apart from more people knowing who he is. Every day, he is working harder than ever to maintain his growth in the sport so he can reach the top of the game. After he won the belt, he allowed himself to go on a holiday with his mates but even then, he found himself itching to be back in the gym after a few days or so.
A large focus of his camp for the upcoming title defense on Friday night has been developing his boxing. Bukauskas still believes that his punches could be a lot crisper and is aiming to be able to find his distance quicker this time around while also pushing a higher pace. That will be essential when he faces Riccardo Nosiglia (8-1) because the Italian challenger has won 7 of his 8 victories by first-round knockout. He is an extremely fast starter and Bukauskas is aware of the threat coming his way. However, he feels very well-prepared and believes that his team have done all of their necessary homework to help him turn in an impressive performance. If that is the case, Bukauskas has a feeling the biggest door will open in his career so far.
“Nosiglia is a good opponent and I give him the utmost respect but he’s similar to my last adversary because of the fact he has a wrestling-based game,” claimed Bukauskas. “You don’t want to have a slow start against a guy who looks to come in and finish straight away so I’ve got to be sharp from the get go. I do believe that my striking and the pressure I put on him early will counter his forward momentum and stop his takedowns. I’ll keep putting the pressure on if we go beyond the first round while throwing my shots with the intention of finishing him. My striking game is much sharper than his and I will use that to my advantage.”
“On Friday, I’m going to bite down on my mouthpiece, embrace the pressure and put on the best performance of my life,” Bukauskas continued. “I’ve improved so much since I won the title and my prediction is that I will finish Nosiglia by strikes. After this upcoming performance, I believe that I will get the call from the UFC. I’m here to get noticed and to put my name out there so that I can go and create my legacy in the world’s biggest promotion. My aim is to be fighting at the O2 arena in London during March next year for the UFC. That is my ultimate goal and dream. I know that I am so close, I can almost taste it. One big win here will solidify my spot on the UFC roster. I truly, truly believe that. I’ve been working most of my life for this moment and I’m going to take it.”
Cage Warriors 111 will be streamed live on UFC Fight Pass at 9pm GMT on Friday night. Fans in the US can watch from 4pmET/3c.