Cypress Hill’s ‘Insane in the Brain’ can be heard faintly as you enter the gym. Bodies roll, fall and collide together in a mishmash of parts. It is impossible to discern one person from the next; all are invisible among their own kind.
Someone calls out to my left, between elbows and shoulders with a sharp yet warm smile. Jack Della Maddalena is quickly lost under moving flesh, disappearing into a fluid, grappling dance as he positions his temporary opponent between him and cage wall. He is half way through his first of the two lengthy sessions he attends daily. Slick, dripping with sweat, he works to maintain the world he began curating when he first started training at Scrappy MMA, in Willetton, nine years ago.
A bell rings and men silently swap opponents. A few push-ups and a breath or two — and the organised hum of movement begins again.
At just 25, Jack Della Maddalena is defined by three newly-acquired titles: father, husband and UFC fighter. He appears to be on a roll, ranked as the 33rd best MMA Welterweight fighter in the world, and on a current win streak of 12 after his latest two victories in the UFC. And yet with some much going for him and with the knowledge that “there [are] obviously a lot of big egos in the UFC, as you would imagine” his humility and genuine nature tend to overshadow it all. He is confident not cocky. He fights brutally and yet remains in control of his emotions and aggression. He seems to be able to juggle effortlessly the two polarising sides of his personality: one the product of his nature and the other the catalyst for his chosen occupation.
When asked if Della Maddalena has changed over the years, his coach of nine years and owner of Scrappy MMA Ben Vickers answers: “Never. That’s the amazing thing. He’s been the same guy from start to finish. His skill set’s changed and his ability to fight has changed, but Jack has never changed. From losing on eternal [MMA] to winning on UFC, he’s the same dude. That’s the most impressive thing about him.”
Vickers says Della Maddalena has always been genuinely friendly but emphasises, with a cheeky smile that creases the side of his face, that this is only the case up until a cage door closes behind him.
“There is nothing kindhearted or humble about him when he is in the cage. He is an animal in there. He’s got a switch.”Ben Vickers
Della Maddalena refers to this so-called ‘switch’ himself when asked how he balances the incongruous parts of his personality. He says it allows him the ability to outlet his aggression and yet remain, at other times, “level-headed”.
“I think for me martial arts helped me a lot,” he says. “I definitely had some aggression in me. I played rugby and was a pretty aggressive rugby player as well. And so just learning martial arts definitely grounded me.”
Although his aggression is at the forefront when fighting, he is always working to remain in control so he can effectively make split-second decisions under fight-night pressure.
“You have to be extremely calm. You have to know when to turn on the aggressiveness and hold it back,” he says.
“I feel like anyone can beat anyone if they make the right decisions at the right time.”Jack Della Maddalena
In light of becoming a father, a husband and a UFC fighter all within his 25th year, Jack Della Maddalena is faced with a rapidly changing perspective. Fighting in an ostensibly testosterone-fuelled sport and now the provider to a family, he is unsure at first when asked what it means to be a man. After some consideration, he concludes: “A man can control his own emotions, just control himself in scenarios and in a confrontational situation can just be calm.”
He follows this up by making it clear that he certainly does not have it nailed: “Being 25 I definitely have work to do.”
He credits his practise of visualisation and his “trust in the process” for helping him get to where he is now. He has always envisioned “getting to the top” in the UFC and says “it is something that [he] truly does believe” will come to pass. But what about the pressure that comes with the job of being a full-time fighter, father and husband? He shrugs and says nonchalantly he is confident that he’ll be all right.
Michelle Della Maddalena describes her husband down the phone to me, her newborn son, Franco, crying in the background. “Jack is a quiet achiever. In anything he ever does he gives a 110 per cent,” she says. She credits his upbringing as the reason why he is who he is. “He is very, very, very genuine. What you see is what you get.”
Jack Della Maddalena has lived his whole life in Perth and feels proud to represent Western Australia. His interest in fighting began when watching the world of WWE with his older brother, Josh. They both quickly graduated to boxing, then MMA and still train together today.
As the bell rings, the brothers are paired together for another round of grappling. They quickly disappear into each other, showing, once again, the communal nature of such a training session. One inevitably wearing, in short time, the sweaty DNA of everyone else in the room. This bizarre bonding of temporary opponents perhaps speaking all-too-well to Jack Della Maddalena’s humility. He must constantly lose himself and sense of ego within the mass.
Jack Della Maddalena, other than possessing a name which rolls so well off the tongue of a UFC presenter — perhaps second only to that of his son’s: Franco Della Maddalena — is well on his way to fulfilling much of what he has dreamt of all his life. He is hoping to fight in New York, in November and potentially against a top-15-rated opponent next year in his home of Perth.
All that can be said for certain now, however, is that the walking contradiction which is Jack Della Maddalena is a paradox worth watching.