Regional MMA fighters face hazy professional future in cage

Kyle Daukaus could use a job. The Philadelphia native seeks manual labor work to earn money while on a break from the kind of profession not often noted on LinkedIn: the undefeated middleweight champion of regional MMA promotion Cage Fury Fighting Championships.

“As far as fighting,” Daukaus said, “I can’t do anything.”

Kyle Daukaus

LAS VEGAS, NV - JUNE 25: Kyle Daukaus reacts after the conclusion of his middleweight bout against Michael Lombardo during Dana White's Contender Series at the UFC Apex on June 25, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/DWCS LLC / Getty Images)

Outside of UFC, the mixed martial arts world has largely shut down, leaving thousands of prospects like the 27-year-old Daukaus out of work and with little idea when the cage door will open again.

There’s nowhere to fight -- the

And in this climate, there’s nothing to sell.

Cage Fury has postponed its scheduled cards, as have most of the larger MMA promotions such as

The promotional drought has left fighters scurrying for a nibble of whatever open preliminary bouts might be available on a UFC card.

Hector Castro, a fight manager with Empire Sports Management, said UFC has tightened the ship on which outliers are offered deals. But his phone is buzzing from the pleas of his stable of roughly 20 fighters who crave a fight with any promotion.

“Everybody wants to get in there," he said. "But the major issue is, they want to be smart about it. They understand this is how they make a living. But a lot of them also see the opportunity.”

Daukaus is among the fighters

“He texts me almost every other day, ‘Hey, tell (UFC) I’m ready,’” Castro said. “Tell the Bellator guys, ‘Hey, I want this guy.’ I’m like, listen, bro. It’s quiet right now. There’s nothing going on. Let’s hope we can get back to work and these guys can make a living. The longer we go, the longer the line goes. You’re only allowed 12 fights, 15 fights a card. You’re at the bottom of the totem pole.”

With no money stream, fighters are

“Will they risk getting sick? I’m sure 90% would,” Castro said. “The mentally strong are going to survive this.”

Daukaus normally trained twice daily with jiu-jitsu sessions in the morning and practicing other mixed martial arts skills at night. He taught kickboxing classes at a Philly gym and worked out with a strength and conditioning coach in New Jersey. He now relies on weights in his basement and shadow boxing to stay fit, mixing in the occasional sparring sessions with his older brother, a fellow MMA fighter and Philadelphia police officer.

Daukaus was trained by former

“Ten years may be going down the drain,” Martinez said. “How many schools and places like us are in the same predicament? I can’t really dwell on it. I’ve got to sit back and wait.”

Martinez suspended the accounts of nearly 200 members and wonders how his

“Mentally, physically, financially, emotionally, it’s terrible,” he said. “Jiu-jitsu is in a real terrible predicament because we’re not like other gyms where people can keep social distancing and keep six feet apart because they have a 30,000-square-foot facility. We can’t do that. So what do we do? There’s no timeframe to our return.”

Daukaus is

“It’s a big deal when I have fights here locally, which is good because I have a lot of people coming so I get that extra money,” Daukaus said.

Daukaus is an independent contractor. Unlike pros in the NBA or NHL, two leagues interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic whose players are getting most or all of their regular-season paycheck, Daukaus doesn’t receive a salary and lives at home with his mother, a nurse practitioner with Temple University Hospital.

“I hear about how bad it is at her work,” Daukaus said. “But for me, it’s very tough not having any income. I know that fighting as a profession is a struggle in the beginning, and I’m fine with struggling like that. But I’m not even guaranteed monthly payments from the gym right now. I’m doing as best as I can to spend as minimal an amount as possible.”

Daukaus had hoped to fight again this month. Instead, he trains at home for a fight that might not happen this year.

“I don’t have a Plan B,” Daukaus said. “If the opportunity comes and I get a call, I’m going to take it.”