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LAS VEGAS — The UFC made an aggressive match for Chris Daukaus, who until Dec. 1 was only a part-time fighter. On Saturday in the main event of UFC Fight Night at Apex, Daukaus will face Derrick Lewis, who in his last fight competed for the interim heavyweight title.
Daukaus quit his job as a Philadelphia police officer on Dec. 1 to concentrate full-time on an MMA career. He’s 4-0 in the UFC with four knockouts, three of which have come in the first round.
His background, though, has provided a little extra motivation to Lewis, who turned his life around after being released from prison 13 years ago. Lewis has become the UFC’s in-house comedian and one of its most popular fighters.
And he noted that he’s not too keen on losing to a police officer, though he shouted out several unnamed Houston cops from letting him slide after getting pulled over for speeding.
“Whenever you’re fighting a police officer, you don’t want to get Rodney King’d on ESPN,” Lewis said at media day, a wry grin creasing his face. “You got to go out there and fight hard, man. Do it for the people.”
He knows that Daukaus, whose brother, Kyle, is a UFC middleweight, will fight hard. Daukaus used to regard fighting as a side job and didn’t always put everything he had into it.
He’d skip training if it meant he’d get a few hours of overtime, and he didn’t necessarily see himself moving to the top of the sport.
As he’s succeeded as he rose through the ranks, he realized he had the opportunity to do something special in the sport. And while there is plenty of stability that comes with a job on the police force, including regular paychecks and a host of benefits like health care coverage, becoming UFC heavyweight champion will do things for a man that no police job ever could.
First, though, Daukaus knew he had to change his approach to fighting.
“Especially early in my career before I started taking this seriously, I’d skip training sessions for overtime or all these little things at work that would make me extra money,” Daukaus said. “It showed in my performances. I was getting overweight. I was sloppy with my technique. I wasn’t in the gym as much as I could have been or should have been.
“But now that I’m all in on this, I’m really excited to see what my body is able to put out and what I can do with my skillset.”
Lewis said he only began to watch Daukaus’ fights once he was offered the fight against him. He said he’s been impressed.
Daukaus has a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but 11 of his 12 career wins have been by knockout. The other was by decision.
Lewis has a significant experience advantage, but he doesn’t expect it to mean much.
“We’re heavyweights and so anything can happen,” he said.
Daukaus has plenty of respect for Lewis as a fighter. Lewis has 20 knockouts among his 25 career wins and his 12 KOs in the UFC ties him with Matt Brown for the promotional record.
Daukaus is aware that one mistake could lead to him being scraped off the canvas. But he still said he’d take fighting someone like Lewis any day rather than doing what he used to do as a police officer.
Asked what was scarier, facing a hard-hitter like Lewis or responding to a domestic disturbance call, he didn’t hesitate.
“The domestic call is [scarier], by far,” Daukaus said. “With Derrick Lewis, at least I know what he’s going to do. On a domestic call, they’re one of the most dangerous calls you could go on. Someone calls 911 and you go in there and you have to rely on a family member. And they don’t want their person locked up, so the next thing you know, you’re the enemy. That’s pretty much the most dangerous part of it.”
Daukaus trains at Martinez BJJ Fitness Center in Philadelphia, which he said is the best team in the world and has uniquely prepared him to succeed at the highest level of this sport.
He expects to see a desperate, dangerous opponent because of Lewis’ lackluster performance in his loss to Ciryl Gane. Lewis admitted he overwhelmed himself with pressure fighting in his hometown and didn’t show the way he wanted.
The fight with Gane was 13 years to the day from when he was released from prison and he thought winning the title on that day would have been an incredible story. He didn’t perform the way he had been before getting the fight.
Daukaus expects to see Lewis at the top of his game, but he’s nonetheless confident.
“I’m surrounded by great people and I’m just beginning to realize what I am capable of doing in this sport,” he said. “The public will get a chance to see that on Saturday.”