Given his route to Saturday night’s co-main event bout against Clay Guida, few would have begrudged three-time Olympian Mark Madsen a victory.
So the Dane’s split-decision win over ‘The Carpenter’ will have raised a smile among those who heard Madsen’s turbulent journey to the cage.
During fight week the media learned that Madsen had endured a succession of trying issues, including surgery to repair a broken jaw that needed to be repeated to correct an issue following the first operation. He then contracted COVID-19, then had to cope with the news of his wife’s diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.
Then, to pile even more misery on the Madsen family, the UFC lightweight and his wife were forced out of their family home as a result of water damage.
It was a combination of crushing blows that could easily have forced a fighter to step away from their day job. But not Madsen, who spoke of having a “champion mindset” during the lead-up to his bout with UFC veteran Guida.
“It’s been a crazy period,” Madsen said ahead of his matchup.
“It’s been challenging but, at the same time, we’ve come out with new insight. As a family, we’ve bonded in a different way.
“To put it another way, we have to find a way to make the last year the best thing that happened in our life, and right now, I’m back. I have a fight. It’s about going out there and then performing my best.”
And, on fight night, the former Olympic silver medallist did just that as he left it all in the octagon as he battled back and forth with Guida through three hard-fought rounds to earn a split-decision victory, with the judges scoring it 29-28, 28-29, 30-27 in his favour.
The relief and emotion was written all over Madsen’s face when the decision was announced, and the Dane, who remains undefeated at 11-0.
“That was for my wife. I’m so proud, I’m so happy that I can bring home a victory,” he told Daniel Cormier after his win.
“That means more to me, honestly, than going to the Olympics. This is the biggest comeback of my athletic career. I’m so proud, I’m so happy.
“Clay is a stud. He has my utmost respect. For all the guys in here cheering for Clay, I truly get it. He’s a legend.
“Right here, it’s an honour sharing the cage here. Victory or defeat, to be honest, sharing the cage with Clay Guida – massive.”
Madsen then paid tribute to his team for helping him through the most testing fight camp of his career before turning his attention to his next target as he issued a challenge to American Gregor Gillespie.
“There’s a guy out there saying he’s the best wrestler in this division,” he said.
“I don’t know what style, because it’s certainly not Greco-Roman. Gregor Gillespie, I’m coming for you!”
Madsen’s victory was followed by another comeback win, as middleweight contender Jared Cannonier bounced back from his loss to Robert Whittaker at UFC 254 to score a unanimous decision victory over Kelvin Gastelum in the main event.
Cannonier grew stronger as the fight progressed as he outworked Gastelum over the five-round main event duration to claim scores of 48-47 on all three scorecards and return to the win column.