Some 19 years later he is on the doorstep of that dream, having taken a circuitous route.
“My life has been about highs and lows,” Madsen said. “I’m back on the high part of the roller coaster right now, and it’s been fun.”
The highs: beating current UFC heavyweight champ Brock Lesnar in a high school wrestling match, winning an NCAA Division II national title as a Jackrabbit freshman and – now – appearing on a TV show alongside a handful of former NFL players and street-fighting sensation Kimbo Slice.
The lows: Failing to duplicate the success of his freshman season, working odd jobs despite earning a college degree and spending time in jail on alcohol-related offenses.
As for how Madsen got here, a former teammate introduced him to Dave Martin, a sports agent looking to gain a foothold in the growing MMA market. The two meshed, and Madsen wound up being sent to Illinois to train with the H.I.T. Squad, a renowned MMA gym run by nine-time UFC champ Matt Hughes.
That led to an audition in Seattle for The Ultimate Fighter, and – after displaying his grappling, striking and interviewing ability – a role on the show.
“If he puts it all together, he’s got the ability” to be big, said Martin. “He’s got the mindset. It takes something special to be able to step in a cage and go one-on-one with another guy.”
Officially, the 6-foot, 240-pound Madsen is 3-0 in his pro career. He’s actually fought more than that, but a confidentiality agreement prevents him from revealing the outcome of the show, which was filmed this summer. He did, however, offer a television tease: It wasn’t always easy to live in a house with 15 other heavyweight fighters.
“There’s stuff that gets on your nerves after a week or two – like people leaving toothpaste on the sink,” said Madsen of the show, which ends in December. “There was definitely some drama.”
Sort of like his life so far. He’ll just keep fighting.
“I’ve had some personal demons,” Madsen said. “But those are things you work through, and they tend to make you stronger.”