Jack Della Maddalena turned 26 on Sunday, and earlier this summer, the plan was to celebrate by getting into a fistfight on the main card of the UFC 293 pay-per-view in Sydney, but the fight gods had different plans for the reigning UFC Newcomer of the Year.
Initially scheduled to compete at UFC 290 opposite Sean Brady, that pairing was scuttled when the Philadelphia native was forced out due to an elbow issue. He was replaced by newcomer Josiah Harrell, and after the pair made weight, Harrell was pulled from the contest after it was discovered that he suffers from Moyamoya disease, where certain arteries in the brain are constricted.
Still eager to fight, the UFC offered to find Della Maddalena a third opponent for the following week, landing on newcomer Bassil Hafez, who pushed the streaking Australian to his limits. Della Maddalena came away with a split decision win, a Fight of the Night bonus, a fifth straight UFC victory, and a crazy story to tell about his work trip to Las Vegas in the summer of 2023.
“Yeah, 100 percent — craziest experience yet,” said Della Maddalena, who returns to action this weekend opposite Kevin Holland in the Noche UFC co-main event. “Me and my coaches always say we don’t prepare for one person — we’re just prepared in general and ready to go, and you know what? I thought this is the sport and this was just good practice. I assumed this might happen in the future and it was something I should prepare for, so I just tried to stay focused on the task at hand.
“When the second opponent pulled out for the International Fight Week card, the UFC came to me and said, ‘Do you want to stick around for an extra week? We’ll get you someone for next week’ and I just made the decisions (to stick around). It’s a long way to come from Australia to not get a fight, so I said, ‘Yeah, if you can get me a fight, let’s do it.’”
From the outside looking in, the idea of pushing the fight back a week in order to compete probably doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, but everything a competitor does throughout training camp is geared towards peaking on a specific day.
When you add in that Della Maddalena had already made weight for the UFC 290 pairing with Harrell and would need to do so again for his clash with Hafez the following week, the tax on his body and the totality of what he was asking of himself heading into that contest comes into clearer view.
While far from optimal, there was one fact that helped carry the ascending welterweight through.
Jack Della Maddalena | Greatest Hits
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“I like fighting,” he said with a smile, the permanent divot in his nose serving as a clear indication of just how much the talented UFC sophomore genuinely enjoys stepping into the Octagon. “You put so much effort in to compete, to get the emotions of the fight, and to have it pulled away from you is devastating.
“I stayed strong and feel like I’d done everything I could possibly to prepare for that moment, so how bad could it be to push back a week?
“I think things worked out pretty well.”
Even the sting from missing out on the opportunity to compete on home soil last weekend was quickly eased as Della Maddalena quickly picked up this weekend’s assignment with the similarly streaking Holland.
The talkative Texan was one of the fighters to initially raise his hand and volunteer to face Della Maddalena when Brady was forced to withdraw from the International Fight Week pay-per-view. He clearly wasn’t bothered by the fact that he had a date with Michael Chiesa at UFC 291 on the calendar already, and offered up his services, as he is wont to do, only for the UFC to politely decline.
Once Holland rolled into Salt Lake City and made quick work of “Maverick,” the promotion opted to revisit the potential pairing and Della Maddalena couldn’t say “Yes” quickly enough.
“When they said Kevin, I was stoked!” recalled the man currently stationed at No. 14 in the welterweight rankings, one spot behind his dance partner this weekend. “I was like, ‘That’s awesome! Please can it happen?’
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“He obviously had the fight locked in with Chiesa, so I don’t think it was a realistic thing the UFC were looking at at the time, but it sounded cool and I was in for it. If the UFC had said, ‘We want to do this,’ I would have absolutely jumped at the opportunity.”
The matchup makes perfect sense in so many ways, as both are riding hot streaks and recently broke into the rankings in the 170-pound weight class. On top of that, each man has an affinity for staying as active as possible, and individually, they’re each allergic to being in a boring fight.
Now paired together, it should produce an electric contest on Saturday night, one that Della Maddalena is eagerly anticipating, even if there is one unique challenge he’s going to have to contend with this weekend.
“I’ve tried to get the training partners to talk a little bit, just so I can stay focused,” he said when asked about Holland’s penchant for talking to his opponents throughout the fight. “I don’t want to get involved in any of that; I just want to stay on task
“I feel like if I start getting involved in any of that, I’ve probably lost a bit of focus, so that’s part of what I’m going to work on is blocking that out and just get down to business.
“It’s very unique and I can see how it could be annoying, especially if you start falling behind in the fight and then he starts talking to you,” he added with a laugh. “It could be overwhelming and then you start making bad mistakes, so I’ve honestly got to try and block that stuff out, stay focused, push the pace, and work hard for 15 minutes.”
While some fighters are very particular about who they fight, what each win could mean for their careers, and always have their reputation and legacy at the front of mind, there are some that opt to set those things aside and focus solely on getting to step into the Octagon as frequently as possible in order to compete.
Both Holland and Della Maddalena fit in the latter category, and while there are certainly aspects of this contest that make it stand out more than his five previous trips into the UFC cage, the Australian up-and-comer really does keep things quite simple.
“I just want to stay active and compete,” he said flatly, articulating what is easily identifiable as his driving principle. “In this sport, you don’t get to compete every weekend, so when the opportunity does come to compete, it’s a really exciting thing and you’ve got to jump on it.
“I think it’s a real good test,” he said of the pairing with Holland. “He’s a guy that likes to fight, a very exciting fighter — I feel like you don’t know what to expect when you fight him, so it’s a good challenge. To overcome a challenge like this is going to be great, plus to solidify my first win over a Top 15 opponent — it’s going to line up a nice fight with someone else in the Top 15 and keep things going.
“I’m really looking forward to competing against Kevin Holland and getting the win.”