Top-level UFC fighters are rightly seen as some of the toughest athletes on the planet. But they’re human beings, too, and they suffer from the same mental struggles as the fans who pay their money to watch them compete.

One such athlete, Chris Daukaus, is set for action on Saturday night in the main event of UFC on ESPN 33. He’s set to take on longtime heavyweight contender Curtis Blaydes in a pivotal bout for his career as he looks to bounce back from his first defeat inside the octagon.

Daukaus, a graduate of the east coast promotion Cage Fury Fighting Championships, quickly established himself in the UFC with four straight wins, all by KO/TKO. But that momentum came to a crashing halt at the heavy hands of Derrick Lewis, who demolished Daukaus inside a round last December.

After a blistering start to his UFC career, Daukaus was forced to stop and take stock, and he admitted that it took him some time to get through the low that followed his knockout loss to Lewis.

“It certainly sucks, as far as losing. No one really likes to lose. I definitely don’t like to lose at anything,” he told reporters at UFC on ESPN 33 media day in Columbus, Ohio.

“But to lose like that, I was in a bad place for a little bit.”

Philadelphia native Daukaus was a serving police officer when he arrived in the UFC, but he opted to leave his job in order to fully dedicate himself to his athletic career. But, rather than experience an upturn in fortunes, Daukaus suffered his first UFC defeat, leaving him feeling uncertain about his career choices.

“With leaving my job right before then, like officially leaving my job, the questions of are you good enough? Should you be here? Did you make a mistake? All that is just creeping in your head,” he explained.

“It’s not like I’m a single guy – with my wife, my son, and my soon-to-be-daughter is coming – so it’s a big commitment that I stepped away from work.

“I was guaranteed a paycheck every two weeks and now I can go months without getting paid. And so it was a big thing.”

Daukaus admitted that his knockout loss weighed heavily on his mind as he tried to work his way through the low points that followed his defeat.

“I was in that dark place. I stayed there for a little bit, realised what I did wrong and everything like that. And I really didn’t want to go back there, so I spent some time there,” he said, before stating that he has processed his defeat, moved on and is now eager to return on Saturday night.

“Just going into this camp has been really good, just fixing everything that I made the mistakes on, as far as in the Derrick Lewis fight,” he said.

“But, man, I honestly haven’t been this excited for a fight week, a fight camp in a very long time.

“You realise that you know there’s a reason why you fall down. I lost and I was down there. I was not really depressed, but, you know, you’re just down on yourself, you let yourself down. You feel like everyone who has been having your back for all these years – you let them all down. You let your training partners down, your wife down, everyone.

“So it’s really just not enjoying that feeling. But knowing that feeling, knowing what it feels like to be down there and using that as a driving force to never go back there.”