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Mark O. Madsen is driven by his competitive hunger: 'It's time to kick somebody's ass and move up the rankings'

As he edges closer to 40 years old, Madsen knows now is the time to make a push up the lightweight ladder.
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Mark O. Madsen was originally scheduled to fight on October 29, but just 11 days prior to making his return to the octagon, it was announced that his opponent, Drakkar Klose, had suffered a serious knee injury and would be unable to compete.

Had this happened earlier in the year, it would have caused a great deal of stress and worry for the Danish wrestler, as questions about when he would be able to compete and when he would be able to return home to his wife and kids would have raced through his head.

But following his victory over Vinc Pichel in April, the Madsen clan relocated to Paradise Valley, Arizona, so that its patriarch could once again go all-in on his athletic ambitions.

"If we would have been in the old situation – with my wife and kids in Denmark – I would have been stressing out, not knowing if I had a fight, not knowing when I would be able to go back to my family," Madsen (12-0 MMA, 4-0 UFC) said, a few days after Klose was forced out of the contest and prior to the UFC booking him opposite Grant Dawson (18-1-1 MMA, 6-0-1 UFC) this weekend. "I don't have to stress about it because I have my family here, my kids here – my dad even flew over to help me with the last two weeks.

"From a personal perspective, it's ideal, it's better," he said of being based in the United States and available to easily shift his fight back a week or two. "I don't have to stress too much about it, but I want to fight."

When the news of Klose's injury broke, Madsen found himself stuck between a rock and a hard place, battling the two sides of himself: the competitor and the pragmatist.

One side was ready to jump into the octagon last weekend as scheduled, taking on literally anyone the UFC could find that would sign a contract to face off with the undefeated 2016 Olympic silver medalist.

The other wanted to be sure to find an opponent that makes sense for an undefeated, ascending lightweight coming off the best win of his UFC career, with ambitions of fighting for championship gold somewhere in the not-too-distant future.

"I am able and willing to fight anybody in the world; as long as I get in there," he said, clearly yearning for the chance to showcase the improvements that he's made since defeating Pichel and scratching the competitive itch that has driven him since he began wrestling at the age of 6. "That's the athlete, that's the competitor speaking, but I do know it has to make sense in terms of the decision we made.

"It's not just about competing; I moved my family over here and we're going all-in.

"I would like to fight a fight that makes sense in terms of moving forward, moving up on the rankings list," he added, clearly aware that taking the right fight is more important winning any fight. "I'm undefeated, and I do feel I've improved a lot the last couple months, spending time with the team here."

One factor that Madsen will not ever include in his decision-making process or let influence the choices he makes as a competitor is age.

While he's just a dozen fights into his MMA career, the Danish athletic icon only committed to his mixed martial arts pursuits full time at the start of 2018, and he turned 38 in September. He's made incredibly quick progress to reach the UFC after just eight fights and less than two years after stepping away from the wrestling mats, but he's also at an age when many fighters are either pondering retirement or starting to take a step back in terms of their place in their respective divisions.

Madsen, however, is still pressing forward, eyeing a future championship opportunity, and doesn't see his age – or anyone's age, for that matter – as something that should deter them from chasing down their dreams.

"I hear a lot of people talking about age but, at the end of the day, I think it's about hunger," he said. "How hungry are you? How willing are you to push yourself through training? To stay on a diet? To make sure you get the right sleep and structure your life in terms of being professional?

"As you get older, there are some choices you have to make – you're not able to do a Saturday night going crazy and think that Monday you'll be ready to go again. There are some things you have to take into account, and being professional is one of them. I can say from stats that my heart rate coming into a camp is lower than what a lot of fighters have, so I'm in great shape.

"This is my craft," he continued. "This is what I've been doing since I was six years old and started wrestling. I'm an athlete and I'll be able to compete as long as I put my mind to it."

As for any talk that his window of opportunity might be closing, "The Olympian" was quick to offer up some remodeling ideas, even though renovations aren't his forte.

"If there is a window and in regards to how big the window is, I'm not a carpenter," he said with a snicker. "But if the hole isn't big enough, you just adjust the fit."

But while he doesn't believe there is a window that is closing, the veteran competitor is fully aware of the very basic reality of being a mixed martial artist with lofty goals.

"If we're talking about an overall ambition, an overall goal of putting myself in the best possible position – even putting myself in a title fight – I have to fight," he said earnestly. "I can have all the dreams, I can aspire as much as I want, but if I don't get in there and get the job done, I'm not moving up the rankings.

"I do feel like it's time to get in there," he added. "I feel like it's time to kick somebody's ass and move up the rankings."

The Fight Ready representative made a point of staying ready, and now, just a week after he was originally scheduled to return, he'll make the walk to the Octagon again, facing an opponent that makes a great deal of sense in a fight where a win would propel him even further up the divisional ladder.

It's all worked out, just as he thought it would.

"I do believe something will pop up, things will sort themselves out," he said, forecasting this scenario a few days before the fight was booked, "so I'm trying not to stress too much about it.

"I'm staying ready, I'm staying focused, and I'm hoping for the best."

This story first published at UFC.com.