Wrestling star Mark O. Madsen chooses UFC over the Olympics

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Mark O. Madsen has carved out the type of successful wrestling career that some athletes can only dream of. He is the first Danish wrestler since 1948 to earn a medal at the Olympics and was a four-time medalist at the World Wrestling Championships. Despite making a name for himself in the wrestling world, he is ready to risk it all for a shot in the UFC.

The 35-year old is a three-time Olympian in Greco-Roman wrestling and took home silver at the Rio Olympics in 2016. His position within the sport and role in the Danish Wrestling Foundation secured Madsen a healthy salary for the past 6 years. Moving to the UFC halfway through his 30s in a country where MMA coverage is still in its infancy was not an easy decision, but a risk worth taking.

“I know my age is higher than it was when I started wrestling, but my goal from the beginning was to join the UFC,” Madsen told Brett Okamoto from ESPN.

“My wife and I quit our jobs to make a run at this. I’ve been travelling four to five times per week the last 18 months, sleeping in a camper because there are no MMA clubs in my area of the country.”

In 2018, Madsen announced his retirement and confirmed he would be fighting towards a spot in the UFC’s lightweight division. Within that short timeframe, the Danish has secured 6 wins and achieved his goal of signing to the UFC. The promotions company signed him in August, and he is scheduled to make his debut against Danilo Belluardo in the co-main event of UFC Fight Night, this Saturday in Copenhagen.

He will be making his official MMA transition this weekend accompanied by Martin Kampmann, one of the most established Danish fighters of all time. He fought within the UFC from 2006 to 2013 and has been spearheading Madsen’s training.

“Mark is a star in a more traditional sport; he’s a respected athlete,” said Kampmann.

“Him jumping into MMA has brought a big focus to it, and really helped grow the MMA scene in Denmark.”

“We’ve only been working at this dedicated [a level for] a short period of time. The leaps and bounds he’s taken since we focused on MMA, it’s going very quick. If the curves keep evolving like this, our goals will be lofty,” said Kampmann.

This isn’t the first time a wrestler has joined the UFC with high hopes. Former heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier and two-division champion Henry Cejudo have earned belts under the UFC banner. Cormier was an Olympic wrestler and Cejudo was a freestyle wrestler who won gold in Beijing, 2008. Their undisputed wrestling skill has been instrumental in their fighting success.

Mark Madsen will be taking the leap of faith tomorrow but is already proud of the journey he has taken.

“Getting signed by the UFC might be the most gratifying moment in my athletic life,” Madsen said. “Even more than winning a silver medal.”

Let’s hope Mark O. Madsen can carry the flag for his Scandinavian country and increase exposure of the sport, the same way Alexander Gustafsson did for Sweden in his prime. Catch Madsen in action at UFC Fight Night 160 which airs on ESPN + (11.a.m. ET)

This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 9/27/2019.