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After giving up Division I hoop dreams, England’s Modestas Bukauskas makes UFC debut on “Fight Island” July 15

Interview with Modestas Bukauskas above

Modestas Bukauskas credits a Louisiana high school of all places for being the reason he is a light heavyweight.

Born in Lithuania and living in England since he was three years old, he spent two years attending Saint Thomas Aquinas Regional Catholic High School in Hammond, Louisiana.

Bukauskas came to the United States for hoops, but then became a multi-sport athlete on the basketball and football teams. His time in America became a proving ground to test his athletic abilities.

The results showed, improving his bench max from 185 pounds on his arrival to 255 pounds when he left. After putting on some size, a move to 205 pounds did not seem too far out of the question.

Now, he will make his UFC debut at light heavyweight against Vinicius Moreira on “Fight Island,” July 15. 

“Not only did it give me just loads of life memories, it gave me the athleticism, a lot of things I wouldn’t have if I stayed in England,” Bukauskas said. 

“I don’t even think I’d be a light heavyweight if I didn’t go out to America. There’s a lot of things there I’m thankful for.”

Changing paths

Bukauskas came to the realization his future would not include basketball after not receiving any Division I offers. The Lithuanian native dreamt of being a professional athlete, but after graduating high school, he knew it wouldn’t happen on a court or field.

Training in kickboxing since he was five years old under his father, Gintas, MMA was an obvious route. He started fighting as an amateur in 2012 and made his professional debut in 2015. He rattled off four-straight wins as a middleweight in the first year before suffering two consecutive losses in 2016. 

Bukauskas rebounded in dramatic fashion with six-consecutive wins at 205 pounds, including winning and defending the Cage Warriors light-heavyweight strap. 

The 26-year-old is content with his decision to trade a basketball for MMA gloves.

“At a point you come to a realization whether you are good enough or not. I was good, but I wasn’t good enough,” Bukauskas said. “I sort of realized I gained a lot of experience, a lot of athleticism, I gained a lot of these things that are going to help me become even more dangerous in fighting.”

An athlete

Modestas Bukauskas has known fighting most of his life. He won four British kickboxing titles, winning the last one when he was 14 years old. That occurred when he was taking a break from martial arts, focusing more on hoops. 

Fighting is a family affair with Bukauskas having his father as his head coach. The two bought a ‘flimsy’ summer house in their neighbor’s garden and renovated it into a home-training facility,

The gym made training all the more easier during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Even seeing the fact in American football I was good at it, everyone was like, ‘Oh, you got fast hands, you’re this, that,” Bukauskas said. “I was like, ‘Really, the next logical step for me, if I can’t do it in college anyway here, then I got to go back to fighting. The door was always open because my dad was here.”

He is two weeks away from making his UFC debut. At 10-2, Bukauskas is taking on a more seasoned-UFC fighter with three octagon appearances. Moreiera remains winless in the UFC with losses to Alonzo Menifield, Eryk Anders and Paul Craig.

It is not the UFC debut Bukauskas imagined. He was originally slated to fight Moreira in the United States on May 16. Instead, he continues his dream of a professional athlete on Yas Island

“My life’s dream was to be a professional athlete and I’ve succeeded at that. Not only did I want to do that, I wanted to compete at the highest level,” Bukauskas said. “Now that I’ve succeeded at that, the next step is for me to become a world champion.”

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