MMA star Don Madge has shown himself to have a granite body and mind. There are life lessons to be learned from how he developed those assets

Nothing about Don Madge suggests he could hurt you badly if he really wanted to. He is devastatingly handsome, so handsome in fact that when he isn’t honing his skill as a human wrecking ball, he has a successful career as a regularly booked model. The only tell you get that he may be equipped to make you tap into your medical aid is from his battered cauliflower ears.

He would be a target for one of those douches who look for trouble after a couple of drinks. With Don being of average height and unspectacular build, it’s easy to see how the douche in question would make such a grave error. Yet he doesn’t give one the impression that he would do anything else in the face of such provocation than finish his drink and move on to an environment free of such, well, douchiness. We know that below the surface lies an animal capable of immense devastation. But his cage is very strong.

Don, 25, is one of the most promising of a group of young pain servers in the Extreme Fighting Championship. There is an ever-growing collection of astute analysts who believe him to have the most potential of any in the pack. A record of four wins, three losses and a draw is impressive for a young buck in a strong pool of lightweights, many of whom are older and more experienced.

For the purpose of this feature, future Don isn’t of as much interest to us as present Don. We were quite intent on understanding what shapes and defines a man of his mental and physical toughness, with a view to adapting those insights into useful lessons for the Man audience. Don didn’t disappoint.

Man: When you reflect on your childhood, what shaped the fighter you would become years later in terms of aggression, physical toughness and determination?

Don: I was always an active kid. I played every sport possible and I’ve always been ultra competitive. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs in my life and I’ve been forced to become resilient. Everything I experienced growing up, including being around the right people, has moulded me into the fighter I am today.

The take down. Many of us have faced trying circumstances in our lives. However, every time you make it through those tough situations, your resilience grows. The key is to refuse to break, no matter how difficult your circumstances are. Mentors are key to this. Find someone you respect and who has more life experience than you and ask them to help you on your life journey. Pride often prevents us from doing this, but once you understand and see the power of great mentorship, you will forget about all your pride issues.

Man: Do you think someone can be conditioned to be mentally tough, or is it something you’re born with?

Don: I think mental strength is something that can be developed. However, the will and the fire to be the best and fight on when everything else is against you is something you’re born with. You develop this by taking yourself out of your comfort zone on a regular basis. That’s the only way to see what you’re made of and if you can fight through when it’s easier to quit.

The take down. Talent can only take you so far in life. You’ll find the really successful people have a high degree of mental strength. Endeavour to constantly improve this facet of your life by putting yourself in challenging situations. The immediate outcome is not nearly as important as the greater goal, which is to grow into a mental giant capable of enduring when others are throwing in the towel.

Man: How do you win battles with self-doubt?

Don: Everyone has some doubt – maybe not regularly, but everyone has to deal with it at some point. I like to just go through all the things I can control, such as my training, my condition, my determination to excel and so on. Then the rest is up to fate. You can’t control everything, and the moment you realise that and let go, the doubt leaves you.

The take down. Control the controllable. Once you have covered all your bases in this regard, you’ll feel a sense of liberation. The better you prepare, the more you realise the value of preparation in the context of controlling self-doubt, which, if left to fester, can have debilitating effects on your effectiveness.

Man: How do you spot weakness in an opponent and then dominate them mentally?

Don: I know from the moment I look into their eyes. The eyes never lie. It’s not something I can explain. It’s a primal thing. Deep down you can feel the fear or the doubt coming from an opponent. That’s when you take advantage and break them completely.

The take down. People who’ve competed in sport at a competitive level will understand what Don is saying. It’s a difficult thing to articulate, because it’s a sense you get from your opponent. Something just tells you they aren’t up for the fight. However, we’ve seen this play out in a corporate context as well. For example, in a race for a vacant prized position, there’ll be one guy who dominates. He’ll sense a weakness in his counterparts and then exploit it. You want to be that guy. You never want to be his prey. If you know someone who fits the description of the man we’re talking about, ask them to coach you.

Man: How do you push through pain barriers?

Don: The mind always wins over the body. I always tell myself that when I feel pain or as if I can’t go on anymore. I ask myself: ‘Are you going to die?’ If not, I keep going.

The take down. Often in life, we’re faced with situations that seem insurmountable and it is appealing to just surrender to your fate. Don’t. There’s a whole new dimension of resilience to explore on the other side of surrender. Push through and grow. Or surrender and don’t.

Man: How do you motivate yourself to train when you least want to?

Don: Some days I don’t want to make that 5 am call. I always listen to my body. If I am fatigued, I’ll rest, but there is a huge difference between fatigue and laziness. I always repeat my goals to myself, over and over, and staying in bed is never more important than reaching my goals.

The take down. If you don’t have goals or take your eye off those goals, you can enter into a maze of mediocrity that is hard to escape. You have to discipline yourself to stick to the strategies that will allow you to achieve your goals. Sometimes you have to allow yourself time to relax and switch off, but distinguishing between that need and laziness is critical.

Man: What’s your approach to facing opponents who are favourites to beat you?

Don: Favourites are determined by numbers, calculations and opinions. A man is made up of exactly what I am made of – flesh and blood – and as long as that’s the case, I always know that I can win.

The take down. There’ll be times in your life when you’ll be seen as the David in a seemingly lost cause against Goliath. Yet everyone has weaknesses and areas of vulnerability. Remind yourself of this, seek to identify them and then capitalise to your advantage.

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