With a deep running family heritage in the martial arts, it is no surprise that Cage Warriors competitor, Modestas Bukauskas (8-2), 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 looks to take the next, significant step towards his ultimate goal on Saturday night when he faces Norwegian competitor, Marthin Hamlet (5-0), for the vacant light heavyweight title at the iconic Eventim Apollo on an event being billed as the ‘Night of Champions’. A staggering six title fights will take place on June 29th during an evening that could well see many new eras ushered in among the majority of the promotion’s weight divisions. Bukauskas is looking to seize the opportunity to prove that he is one of the best in Europe and that his investment in the sport from a very young age was all worth it.
“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. 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 onward that all of my focus went into training.”
Bukauskas, who is originally from Lithuania, 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 current 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. 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 three 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 102, the light heavyweight was presented with his toughest test to date as he took on former KSW title challenger, Marcin ‘The Giant’ Wojcik.
In the fight, Wojcik scored an early takedown but Bukauskas managed to get back to his feet and gain separation from the clinch to momentarily take himself away from danger. However, ‘The Giant’ was able to secure numerous other takedowns which was the main story of the first round. In the following stanza, Bukauskas had some initial success in the standup before succumbing to another takedown and it began to look as though Wojcik would take the victory due to his dominance in the grappling. With around one minute remaining in the round, the Polish fighter appeared to be getting fatigued due to the number of high amplitude takedowns he was pulling off so Bukauskas began pouring on the strikes. He landed some big punches and successfully placed a spinning back kick to his opponents liver which crumpled Wojcik onto the mat, thus extending his winning streak to four. It gave Bukauskas the biggest victory on his record yet and made it clear that he is one of the best light heavyweights on the regional scene.
“I thought I had a good performance against Wojcik,” discussed Bukauskas. “However, I still wasn’t able to unleash some of my more devastating attacks. I feel as though I didn’t pull the trigger as much as I could or should have so I was a little bit hesitant. A couple of errors were made during the fight but my corner were telling me all of the time that if I did get taken down to just get straight back up. That was exactly the gameplan that we went out there with. I was actually not worrying too much about the takedown going into the fight because I had been told that he would strike with me. In his last few fights, I saw that he was mostly the striking aggressor so I thought that would play into my game but as you saw it didn’t go like that at all. He decided to wrestle with me so it was my plan to keep getting up and then slowly find my openings from there. I managed to turn it around so I was happy but I knew there were still lots of things to work on after that fight.”
“From that performance, I learnt that I should probably stay in the pocket for longer periods of time and strike more effectively,” Bukauskas continued. “I had him pretty comfortably on the end of my range but I needed to step in a little bit more and not get pressured back as much. To add to this, I knew I needed to work on learning how to prevent takedowns through using good posts with my arms, stop the initial shot and not get pressed against the cage. On the flip side, I learnt that I can get up against a high level, strong guy so there were positives to take away too.”
The spinning back kick was the key shot which broke Wojcik but that wasn’t the first time that the Polish fighter had fallen to a body shot during his career. In fact, it was as recent as Wojcik’s fight prior to Bukauskas against UFC veteran, Scott Askham, where a strike to the same area of his torso immobilized him. Bukauskas does watch a lot of tape on his opponents during camp to identify some of their tendencies and Wojcik’s vulnerability to body shots was something that he had spotted. He gives a lot of credit to his dad, who is also his head coach, as he saw the opening for the spinning back kick real time as the fight was playing out.
“I did watch a lot of Marcin’s previous fights and I saw that he was susceptible to the body,” commented Bukauskas. “It wasn’t necessarily a shot that I was specifically looking for as we work a lot on our spinning back kicks anyway. That’s just a part of my style. Myself and my dad were working more on targeting certain areas so that if that opportunity presented itself, we would go ahead and take it. We were working on a specific shot like that because one of my training partners, Marcin Lazarz, who fought Wojcik in the past said that he would be quite open to the liver.”
“Luckily in the fight, I saw that certain opening right in that last sequence. In fact, just before the end of the contest, my dad was shouting all of his different commands. Marcin was quite tired and I was feeling it too but I could still put shots together. I was thinking more to punch but my dad was shouting for the spinning back kick about five or six times so I eventually threw it. It was funny because I think if it wasn’t for my dad, I wouldn’t have thrown that kick so I’m lucky I had him in my corner. Due to working so much on precision, it landed in the correct spot to finish the fight.”
There hasn’t been a Cage Warriors light heavyweight champion since Karl Moore vacated the title in August last year after he joined Bellator. England’s first ever UFC world champion and UK legend, Michael Bisping, held the same belt during 2005 so it is of great importance in the promotion’s history. The amount of talent on the domestic scene at the higher weights is fairly scarce so it can be hard to build a division but Cage Warriors clearly think now is the time to put the famous belt back in someone’s hands. Not many people thought that the company would bring the title back so soon as they have very few light heavyweight’s under contract. However, Bukauskas had a suspicion that after his last win, a huge opportunity may be coming his way.
“To be honest, I was expecting a title shot because I had won four fights in a row since my long layoff,” said Bukauskas. “Before my last fight, I actually went to Fight Star and won their light heavyweight title as Cage Warriors couldn’t find me an opponent. Winning a belt in another promotion increased my stock and then my dad asked for a big fight. We got Wojcik who is an amazing competitor and we managed to stop him. After fighting the second ranked light heavyweight in Eastern Europe and finishing him, I was definitely looking for a title shot. There was no one else that was there in the division that could vie for it. I wouldn’t say that we pushed for a title shot but when we saw that there were lots being offered across the weight divisions, we thought why don’t we get one? We’re ready to fight top competition which is what we want to truly test ourselves.”
Bukauskas travels to numerous locations in order to get all of the training that he needs including the newly-relocated BST gym in Northampton. The lease wasn’t renewed by the owners of the building within which the gym was previously situated so all of the equipment had to be packed up and moved from the town centre to a new site further towards the outskirts of the town. However, after some initial complications, this move turned out to be for the best as BST is now the largest MMA gym in the whole of the UK with incredible, state of the art facilities. Bukauskas lauded the quality of training he receives there and believes that visiting the complex is essential to his overall development and improvement as a mixed martial artist.
“Training at BST Northampton has been a massive help in my training,” explained Bukauskas. “Its been a great addition to my schedule working alongside Danny Batten and Raymond Paul. They are great coaches and they gel so well with my dad and other staff. I actually met the pair when I was sparring with Roger Gracie and Linton Vassell so that’s how we got hooked up. From there, I started going down to train with them and I haven’t looked back since.”
“They just recently moved to a 60,000 square foot facility which is amazing. It really helps having all of that floor space and the correct equipment as well as the cage and other fighting areas. They help me a lot with my overall MMA game and they come up with great gameplans. They are the main gym that help me put everything together and mix things up for MMA because I train in the single disciplines elsewhere. A lot of other gyms quite honestly lack the knowledge of combining the martial arts together. The drive is about an hour and a half to get there but it is definitely well worth it!”
Fellow light heavweight, Marthin Hamlet, is who stands in the way of Bukauskas and the Cage Warriors light heavyweight title on Saturday night. Hamlet isn’t as experienced in MMA as Bukauskas but he has an incredible background in wrestling which has seen him win an impressive 15 World Cup medals. The wrestler has come up through the Cage Warriors academy series in Denmark which aims to provide the best, up and coming talent with a pathway to the main show. Hamlet has dominated so far in his career and is undefeated at 5-0 with four of those victories coming inside the distance. Bukauskas is aware of the threats that Hamlet will pose but is confident in his own preparation to capture the belt.
“Hamlet is a top level wrestler but there are areas where I know I can capitilise,” stated Bukauskas. “Marcin Wojcik did take me down quite a few times so we have been working on how to negate that aspect of the sport. We have an exact gameplan on how to combat everything that Marthin will want to throw at me. Obviously he is a very good competitor and he’s performed at a high level during his wrestling days but in MMA, with strikes involved, there are ways that I can manipulate things to turn them in my favour. We’ve been working a lot on my takedown defense but also on my general offense as well. There are a lot of tricks that we have been implementing in order to take him out. We have prepared extensively to go and put this man away.”
“My prediction for the fight is that it will be a very entertaining, high level and fast paced affair with me winning by knockout in the second round. I believe that with my skillset and everything that I’ve been working on, I have what it takes to put him away.”
Cage Warriors 106: Night of Champions will be streamed live on UFC Fight Pass on Saturday 29th June and the last remaining tickets can be purchased here.
Image courtesy of Dolly Clew.