A mentally stronger and more rounded Jimmy Crute says next opponent Modestas Bukauskas has no idea what he's in for as the Australian plots a surge up a UFC light heavyweight division where he believes some fighters may be ducking him.
Crute will face Bukauskas on Oct. 17 at a location still to be determined. It will be the Australian's first fight since his win over Michal Oleksiejczuk via submission at UFC Fight Night Auckland in late February.
It was an important victory for Crute, given he had been submitted by veteran Misha Cirkunov last September, though any momentum he had hoped to build was quickly halted by the coronavirus pandemic.
"It was a do-or-die for me. No one wants to lose two in a row," Crute told ESPN. "It was a relief, but it was more of reassurance that I was on the right path; I changed a few things going into that prep, and I think they paid off big time."
Crute wouldn't be drawn on the exact changes he had made, but instead said much of it had to do with a change in mindset.
That will have been a timely improvement, given that Victoria -- the state in which Crute is based -- is at the centre of Australia's second wave of coronavirus cases and is subject to a stage 4 lockdown.
"The first lockdown, I shot back to Bendigo for a few weeks and was just doing my own work, getting it done via Zoom, talking with my coaches. But I just ended up doing my own thing, really," Crute told ESPN. "And then we got cleared to come back and train properly [in Melbourne], but then stage 4 hit, so I had to take off again until we got permits. And we got permits last week, so it's business as usual now at Dad's Army [Resilience Gym in Melbourne].
"It's a bare training scene, there aren't many partners, but the quality of partners is still there, and I'm feeling like I'm getting really spoiled. I've got a lot of one-on-one time with [coaches] Sam [Greco] and Daniel [Kelly]."
Crute said Victoria's lockdown had only cost him a week's training but that he would have likely taken a short break anyway, given he was preparing for fights first in July, then August and then September.
He says the UFC had been working away to find him an opponent, but potential matchups kept on falling through, leading Crute to suspect that some of his light heavyweight rivals aren't all that interested in throwing down.
"I think the UFC have done an awesome job to keep getting fighters matchups. They offer up a lot of fights, and people are going to choose the fight that suits them the best," Crute said. "But I've got nothing nice to say about a couple of people in my division."
Asked if people were running scared, Crute said: "I think so. I'm not saying yes or no, but I think so."
Lithuanian Bukauskas certainly hasn't ducked Crute. Bukauskas, 26, is set for just his second fight in the UFC; he defeated Andreas Michailidis via a first-round TKO on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi in July.
Crute believes his three extra fights' worth of UFC experience will give him the upper hand when the two touch gloves inside the Octagon.
"He's a pretty sound striker, he sits behind his one-two really well, throws some nice high kicks, and I don't think he minds getting into a bit of a slugfest. I think he'll go trade for trade," Crute said of Bukauskas.
"But the problem that he is going to find is that he's never faced someone like me. And I know that gets said a lot, but until you've experienced the different levels of this sport, which I have now -- he hasn't -- I've fought better people than he's fought. I've fought better people than him. And I'm a completely different to anyone he's ever fought.
"He's only fought wrestlers or strikers; he's never fought anyone who can blend it like I can. So it's a cool feeling for me because this is the first time that I feel like experience is on my side; I'm the veteran and he's the up-and-comer. So I know how to beat these sorts of guys, and I feel like on Fight Night I'm going to show him another level."
With a further six months of training under his belt, Crute feels as though he is a far more complete fighter than the one who stopped Oleksiejczuk in just three minutes and 29 seconds in Auckland.
"Sammy says it all the time, he says, 'The problem with these people is that they prepare for you from your last fight, and you're a completely different fighter,'" Crute said. "That's from Sam Greco's mouth, and that's the guy that knows me the best.
"I think the biggest improvements I've made to my game have been mental. I don't care what anyone says, fighting is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical, and I've really tried to build my mentality and work on my mental output under stress [and] in fights when things don't go right.
"I just think that's been the key to my improvement. I've always been pretty talented when it comes to fighting, but it's the mental game where it's most important."