Two weeks out from his second fight of 2020—it doubles as Australia’s first stadium show since the coronavirus pandemic forced gyms to close their doors and banned live sporting events—Jack Della Maddalena personifies calm. Having recently finished his Saturday morning workout, he enjoys the lack of restrictions in Western Australia that have left him “free to roam.” The Scrappy MMA export arrives at our interview via Zoom with a big smile and an energy that can only be described as infectious.
It makes sense that Della Maddalena, Eternal MMA’s longest reigning welterweight champion, is so happy. Riding an eight-fight winning streak and boasting a 100 percent finishing rate, he will soon get the opportunity to even the score against the man who handed him his first loss, as he faces Aldin Bates at Eternal MMA 53 rematch on Oct. 10. Theirs is a rematch four and a half years in the making, and if Della Maddalena can get past Bates, his professional record will sit at a cool 9-2 and he will be within striking distance of the top ranking in the Australia-New Zealand region. If he can get one more win under his belt after that, he is setting his sights on flying the coop and joining the international circuit, preferably with the likes of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
“I think the whole COVID scenario really helped with this rematch,” Della Maddalena said. “[Bates] hasn’t been too active; he’s had a couple of fights here and there, couple of wins and maybe a loss. He’s from Perth, though, so we don’t need to travel [to compete against each other]. Eternal can’t bring anyone interstate. The choice is basically fight someone locally or don’t fight at all. There’s this local guy that’s beaten me, so how could I say know to that? Normally, [Eternal matchmakers] just approach me with the challenger and I say yes. I’m happy to fight anybody to be honest. I actually wanted to fight Kitt Campbell. In my opinion, he’s the best welterweight in Australia. I’m not taking myself out of the picture, because I think I’m better than him, but from an outside perspective, I think he’s the number one. That was my pre-COVID plan—to get down to Melbourne and fight him and secure my spot at the top. That’s on the backburner now.
“I don’t know what their plan is now,” he added, “but in the meantime, someone local has beaten me. I have to go after him. As a competitor, getting a victory back is so important. It will be great if I can get it back.”
Della Maddalena has grown accustomed to the lifestyle of a professional athlete. Having turned pro in 2016 after just a six-month stint as an amateur, he has quickly become one of Australia’s most promising prospects. He picked up the 170-pound title back in March 2018 with a second-round technical knockout of Luke Howard and has defended it three times. Since his last title fight, where he stopped longstanding rival Luke Pettigrew for a second time, Della Maddalena has signed a management deal with Paradigm Sports Management—the same agency which represents Israel Adesanya and Conor McGregor.
Despite his considerable success, Della Maddalena had to navigate some adversity, as he lost his first two professional bouts: a TKO to the aforementioned Bates followed by a first-round submission to Darcy Vendy. Reflecting on the setbacks and whether he could have a longer amateur career, Della Maddalena remains comfortable with the choices he has made and believes the taste of defeat has ultimately been a blessing in disguise.
“[The reason I went pro so quickly] was just the lack of fights,” he said. “I had a couple of amateur bouts, and then at that point, there weren’t many other locals I could fight. There were some pro guys at my weight, and I figured I might as well jump in. At the end of the day, it’s the same thing. I wasn’t any more scared of competing as a pro. Either way, you’re fighting someone. The time, length, a couple of rules are different, but that’s fine. If there was a good amateur circuit, I wouldn’t have rushed into turning professional, but there wasn’t, so here we are.”
Maddalena claims to have learned from his missteps.
“In general, I don’t like losing,” he said. “I was pretty devastated. My coach wasn’t at the [Vendy] fight, and I remember calling him afterwards. He said, ‘Don’t worry. We’ll get these losses out of the way, and then we’ll get to 10-2. It’s pretty close now. It’s hard. Obviously, losing is not easy, but if it’s something you want to do, you just have to keep learning and move on. It worked out well for me, I think. I think if I won those [first two pro fights], I would’ve thought I was great and I may not have been motivated to learn and get better. If I went in there and beat those guys in the first round, I feel like I would have had a big head and would be waiting for a loss.”
When talking to Della Maddalena, it can be easy to forget that he is only 24 years old and that his journey did not commence all that long ago. Having originally been an avid rugby player with his brother Josh Della Maddalena—a fellow fighter who also competes as a welterweight on the Australian regional scene—they were known to engage in the “full contact” part of the sport, both on and off the field. The backyard scraps and wrestling matches eventually evolved into sparring at the local boxing and MMA gyms, and by the time he was finished with high school, Della Maddalena focused his full attention on fighting, a transition that was greased by watching hours upon hours of UFC and Pride Fighting Championships bouts on YouTube.
“Pretty much my whole early childhood was rugby, and just being in that competitive environment,” Della Maddalena said. “It’s pretty full-on as a full-contact sport. You’re trying to tackle people every single Saturday and then again in training. Me and my brother, who’s two years older … we always used to wrestle each other and fight each other at home. We were always fighting, which usually meant I would get beat up. Eventually, we started training. We had a tackle bag. He would put on gloves and punch it, and I would try and punch and kick it.
“We joined the gym when we were playing rugby,” he added. “Pretty much as soon as I’d done some boxing, I realized I wanted to join an MMA gym, and as soon as I started MMA, I realized, ‘This is sweet.’ Some nights we’d go from rugby training straight to jiu-jitsu or kickboxing class, and then eventually, when I left school, the whole team thing wasn’t really there at club rugby; and the main thing I enjoyed about rugby was the sick team you were a part of [and] having each other’s backs. When that was no longer there, I left and put my full-time attention on MMA.”
The rest, Della Maddalena says, is history. Having taken a full-time job with his father at the debt-financing company Key Factors and spending the lion’s share of his mornings and evenings in the gym since then, his life—like that of many fighters—is oriented around three things: work, training and family.
“Because I work in the office, even though I work all day, I still have the energy to train at night,” Maddalena said. “It’s not like a trade. A lot of the people I know do trades. It’s hard spending the day digging holes, then going [to training] to fight someone. I’m super lucky to work in an office, I think, just for the energy level. I sit there all day twiddling my thumbs ready to train. There’s a lot of other people who have to work a lot harder. A day in my life is [still] pretty busy. I’ve got a partner, my girlfriend. I normally get up early and train at around 5 a.m. I’ll go for a run or do some skipping, something to get a sweat on, because I’ll be sitting down in the office from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
“So I work out, go to work, then it’s pretty much come home, eat some food, then go to the gym for a couple hours,” he added. “That’s my life during the week. Occasionally, I’ll take a night off and spend it with the girlfriend cooking or something. Also, when I get closer to a fight, I tend to spend less time at the gym. I’ll get in like an hour of hard work. I don’t feel like you get much better when you’re training for a fight; it’s just getting the timing right, fitness, that sort of thing.”
Between now and his latest title defense, there is not much left for Della Maddalena to do but wait until his name gets called, until he makes the walk, until the main event in Australia’s first post-coronavirus stadium show kicks off. Eternal MMA 53 will stream live to UFC Fight Pass will stream live to UFC Fight Pass. In typical understated fashion, Della Maddalena remains cool, calm and collected.
“I honestly haven’t really thought about it to tell you the truth” he said. “It is cool, though. I think a lot of people will be keen to watch some fights. They’ll be excited for some action.”