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Former Philly officer who was refused unpaid leave to train could become UFC heavyweight champion

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Matt Breen

The Philadelphia Inquirer

Chris Daukaus was driving home from work in the summer of 2020 as a police officer in North Philadelphia’s 25th district when his phone rang. He had been balancing life as a city cop with a mixed-martial arts career for nearly 10 years, so it wasn’t unusual for his manager to call with news to share.

“But it was a little weird that it was 2:30 in the morning,” said Daukaus, who had just finished a 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. shift. “I thought maybe something was up with him and he needed help or was in some kind of trouble. So when I picked up the phone, I wasn’t expecting for him to tell me that I got signed by the UFC and I had a fight in a week.”

It was the start of a whirlwind 16 months for Daukaus, who won his UFC debut 10 days later with a first-round knockout and elevated himself with four-straight wins by stoppage to become one of the organization’s premier heavyweights while still working as a cop.

A win on Saturday night โ€” Daukaus fights heavyweight contender Derrick Lewis in the main event of UFC Vegas 45 โ€” would push him into title contention. And for the first time as a fighter, he’s not juggling two careers.

Daukaus had always been a fighter and a cop as he entered the police academy days after his amateur debut. He trained for his pro fights in the hours before a shift, saved off days to be free for fight night and often found himself scheduled to work the morning after landing a knockout in a local casino.

As his career reached new heights โ€” Daukaus is UFC’s No. 7 ranked heavyweight โ€” he wanted to give fighting a full-time chance. He asked the police department for a six-month leave of absence: no pay, no benefits, just to hold his job while he trained for a career-altering fight.

But the request was denied, forcing Daukaus make a choice. He quit the department earlier this month after more than 10 years as a cop. Finally, he was a full-time fighter.

“My last official day was December 1, so it’s still a little strange that I’ve only been out for two weeks,” Daukaus said. “I’m coming to the realization that I don’t have to do that anymore. I don’t have to be at work. I’m solely focused on this and I’m really excited about what my future holds. I got to this level and accomplished this while working a full-time job. I want to see where my skills and abilities take me when I go 100-percent in on this.”,

But Daukaus has tasted success in the UFC and decided to bet on himself by walking away.

“Nowadays, people won’t bet on themselves,” Daukaus said. “Either A.) They do what’s expected of them or B.) They’re too scared to take that bet. I didn’t want to have a ‘What if’ moment or a regret in life. I didn’t want to be on my deathbed looking at my family in the face and regretting that I didn’t do that. I was going to live a fulfilled life, a great life if I decided to be a cop for the next 20 or 25 years. But I didn’t want to leave this world and have that regret.”

His first bout as a full-time fighter will be his toughest challenge yet as Lewis (25-8, 20 KOs) is ranked No. 3 by the UFC and is regarded as one of the heavyweight division’s hardest punchers. But Daukaus (12-3 11 KOs) can punch, too.

“If you look at my track record and my fighting style, I tend to find people’s chins just as well as him, if not better,” Daukaus said.

Daukaus, 32, grew up in Tacony, graduated from North Catholic, trains a block from Mayfair’s Frankford and Cottman intersection, and lives in a Parkwood rowhome. He’s billed from Philadelphia, but it is specifically the city’s Northeast neighborhoods that have groomed Daukaus for challenges like Saturday.

“It molded me into having the blue-collar work ethic that I have in my training sessions,” Daukaus said. “Getting beat up by guys whose sole purpose that day is to make your life absolutely miserable and just beat you up. They’re looking to break my will and break me down. Being able to go through that storm and just put in the work and not quitting during that time, I really think the neighborhood and Northeast Philly is a blue-collar, working area and I think I personify that through my fighting and my training camps.”,

A year later, he positioned himself to bet on himself. He’s no longer arriving home from work at 3 a.m., sleeping for a few hours before waking up to be with his son while his wife goes to work, and then finding time to train before his next policing shift.

But even with that routine, Daukaus found a way to become one of the UFC’s top heavyweights. And now he’ll find out how high he can climb with just one job.

“I always envisioned this. I always had the goal of this to happen,” Daukaus said. “To be in the UFC and to fight the big-name guys and the guys who are at the top of the division. Now that it’s finally here, I’m really excited to see how I stack up against the elite men in the world. I really am excited to prove to the world that no matter what, if you have that vision and drive you’ll be able to accomplish anything.”

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