Madde just finished instructing the morning session at FightBox in Slussen when we meet up early a Thursday in the beginning of December. We sit down in a corner of Juiceverket which is the entrance of the gym, and Madde starts to describe the start of her life journey while having an oat and cashew porridge for breakfast.

The horse girl who became a fighter


”I was born in Falkenberg and had a somewhat pain free upbringing. I was a happy one who spent about all time in the stable, being a horse girl. I was girly when being with the girls while playing more physical demanding games with the boys. You can say I took the best from both sides. But I guess I was a bit of a tomboy in some way as physical education and woodwork were my favourite classes. I started riding when I was 4 years old, got my own horses early and went to the stable every day, sometimes both before and after school. It took most of my time so I didn’t spend too much time on studying, but I was a quick learner and in some way I still got good grades.”

Madde’s parents got divorced early and formed new families, which resulted in many siblings for her. But I understand from her that in spite of having many people around her she always went her own way and didn’t listen to anyone but herself. “Most siblings were a lot younger than me so I was closest to my older sister, who also had a horse. Now, when everybody is adult, we hang out more and have good relations between all of us. We see each other every Christmas and summer and every time I go to Halmstad where I have a lot of friends. But I have to say that with all the social media available we have today it feels like my family know me better now than they’ve ever done before, even though we see each other less often than before.”

”THERE WERE SITUATIONS WHEN I HAD TO USE EYE POKES AND CHOKE PEOPLE OUT”


By the age of 17 it was time to test her wings and move out of her parents’ house, which for most people would be difficult to finance but Madde was already taking care of that. “I worked as a bouncer at night and at an animal clinic early mornings and weekends. I never thought it was weird to work as a bouncer, but looking back I can understand that people were surprised to see a 19 year old chick telling people what to do. I never felt insecure, instead I thought that the annoying drunks should shut up and do as I told them. But sure, I had to go through some stuff, everything from tough talks to physical fights. There were situations when I had to use eye pokes and choke people out.”

My initial thought is that her family must have been extremely worried knowing that she was dealing with big and aggressive drunks every night, but Madde doesn’t recall that. “I can’t remember that they said anything about it, but even if they would have done so they knew for sure that it wouldn’t have mattered, they have always known that I go my own way. One example is when my fiancé called my father before he was going to propose to me, to ask for his permission. Dad’s response was basically that it was ok with him but it doesn’t matter since no one can decide for Madde. I’ve always been like this and it’s on a subconscious level, I was probably born like that.”

In the year 2002 she turned 18, dropped the horse riding and started playing football instead. After a while she tried Thaiboxing for the first time, and even if it was more of an exercise type of Thaiboxing she started to like it. Later, during a backpacker trip in Thailand she got to try the real art of Muay Thai. “That was it, I was sold. I felt straight away that this was for me and that this is what I want to do. After my high school graduation I left Falkenberg and moved to Halmstad where they had a well-established gym with many fighters competing at a high level. I had actually started to train there even before I moved, which meant commuting back and forth every day to get good training. At the gym I was the only girl for many years, which might had been a problem for many people, but it worked fine for me as I’ve always enjoyed hanging out with guys.”

Photo: Christian Gustafsson


”It didn’t take long before I started competing. I remember my first fight very well, it was in Thailand where I was to train. One day we found out that a female fight was being arranged that night but one of the fighters had pulled out, so I got the question if I could replace her. My instant reaction was ‘What? I don’t know how to!’, but the calm trainer told me ‘You win sure!’ and with that it was decided. There wasn’t much time before the fight but I could at least sit in my bungalow and watch Million Dollar Baby twice before it was time to go. My opponent was an experienced Thai fighter and I won by knock out in round three. It was a strange feeling to be so dominant that she cowered and I really felt sorry for her. That was the first time I didn’t want to continue the beating, it didn’t feel fair. But that was the last time I felt like that, thereafter I only got more motivated in similar situations.”

The little girl who loved animals and wanted to be a veterinarian had now become a full-blown Thaiboxer and I’m curious to hear how people around her reacted to that. “It’s possible that people got surprised, but I wouldn’t know for sure since I didn’t care about people’s opinions, as always. I do remember that my dad asked me once with great surprise if it was true that I was going to have a Thaiboxing fight, and my affirmative reply came like it was the most obvious thing in the world. At the same time there was a touch of irritation within me because he questioned me. He probably didn’t even mean to question me, but was just taken by surprise.”

It gets clearer when Madde describes her life during this time that everything else had to adapt to her fighting. If you’re going to do two training sessions a day like she has done during all these years it’s probably a must to make it work. “After some time in Halmstad I went to Australia to live there for a while. The original idea was to surf and work but already on the first day I found a Thaiboxing gym and the whole trip got filled with training and fighting. During one period I stayed with the multiple world champion John Wayne Parr which was very cool! Back in Halmstad after the trip I found different jobs with schedules that allowed for a lot of training, for example a lunch restaurant that made it possible to do both morning and afternoon training, more bouncer work at nights and weekends, a treatment center where you could take a very long shift and then get more time off. After a while I got involved in opening and running a Martial Arts Center in Halmstad together with my trainer, who was also my partner, and one more guy. At that point my training palce also became my working place and I could combine work and training.

”I WAS TOLD BEFORE THE FIGHT THAT THE WINNER WOULD GET A SPOT IN THE NATIONAL TEAM”


The new workplace sounded like heaven but it turned out that was only in theory. Practically it became too difficult to focus on her own training when she at the same time had to train others, set schedules, take care of customers and so on. “When I tried to keep my focus on the training I often had to answer questions about payments, membership etc. at the same time. It got too much in the end. When I many years later moved to Stockholm it felt so good to be able to go to practice and only focus on myself. In the beginning I commuted to Stockholm since I studied journalism here. Every time I visited I trained with Jocke [Joakim Karlsson] at Allstars. After some time my relationship with my boyfriend ended and I decided to move permanently to Stockholm.”

Eight years ago Madde was selected for the Swedish Thaiboxing National Team, a milestone in her career, and it was a spot she would hold for the rest of her fighting career. “I was preparing for a fight against Nathalie Zoukatas and most people probably had her as the winner since she was the better fighter on paper. I was told before the fight that the winner would get a spot in the National Team which felt like a huge thing. It was the first time I felt real pressure and that the result was of great weight. I managed to keep my game together and ended up victorious. One clear memory from the National Team is my first World Championship and how I was shaking of fear and nervousness just by walking close to the Russian Team. I didn’t come with much of an attitude, but was mostly grateful for even being there!”

Photo: Christian Gustafsson


During the following championships you could see a much more self-confident Madeleine Vall. She collected medals in many National, Nordic, European and World Championships. The best memory, according to herself, is the two European Championship gold medals. “I managed to win gold two years in a row and they mean extra much to me since they were the result of many hard fights. In some weight classes there are less competitors and you can get seeded directly to the finale, but I’ve always competed in one of the toughest weight classes and due to that always had to go through wars to get a medal. In these two European Championships I managed to keep a high level all the way through. It was demanding for the body with all the injuries but an even bigger challenge mentally to fight every day. The road was long and tough but in the end I pulled it off. Another good memory I have is from a WC when I fought Joanna [Jędrzejczyk] who is now a UFC champion. Unfortunately I lost on split decision after a very close fight, but she was really good already back then and had won the WC several years in a row. In spite of that I still got two out of five judges on my side in that decision. It’s fun to watch her on TV now and know how it feels to eat those punches!”

Eating disorders, total collapse and mental strength


The question is what made Madde such a successful fighter and what differentiated her from others. She explains that she has never ever cheated when it comes to training which often gives her an advantage in strength and durability, but what caught my interest is when she mentions her mental training. “During the last four years of my fighting career I worked actively with a mental coach, who I still work with today. When you reach the top layer in the world you realize that all fighters are tough, technical and in great physical shape and then mental strength is the final piece to develop. In the beginning I needed mental training to handle myself. I could get furious at practice, the anger wasn’t possible to handle which is not a good thing in fighting, so I contacted Igor [Ardoris] who is an amazing mental coach. We started out by focusing on how to control myself and continued with how to control others. We applied things practically in fighting with strategies and tactics for winning but sometimes we were just talking about life in general. Like I said, I still talk to him every week and I always look forward to our conversations, he’s extremely good at what he does.“

”IN MY OPINION EVERYBODY SHOULD TRY MENTAL TRAINING”


”In my opinion everybody should try mental training. It doesn’t have to be about performing in a sport but maybe you want to be a better partner, a better manager or just understand why you think and behave in a certain way. It doesn’t matter who you are, everybody would benefit from it. There’s an overlap between therapy and mental training, but when it’s related to sports it’s much more legitimate, while people many times tend to avoid therapy because of fear to be perceived as a lunatic by others. But it’s really more or less the same thing, you’re going into your head to understand what’s going on in there. It’s smart to do it, also for the everyday life. Why wouldn’t you want to be smarter? It doesn’t only have to be about handling big traumas or a tough upbringing, it can also be about developing yourself.”

Most of the time Madde has controlled her training by herself and has always looked for the best trainers, the best gyms and the best conditions to get even better. She admits though that she didn’t train in a smart way, the lack of rest and recovery resulted in a worn out body. “It’s a bit frightening that in many places the training mentality has not developed much, people still train until they collapse at every training session. At one occasion when I was in Thailand my body was completely over trained and worn out. I had kicked so many thousands of kicks that my legs finally buckled and I couldn’t get up. The trainers comment was ‘you no strong, you train more!’ The solution was always to train more, which I also did, but can you imagine what a little bit of rest would have achieved?”

”I always looked for the best people within each area and got myself a physical trainer, a nutritionist, a mental coach etc. At the same time I studied to be a masseuse, personal trainer, nutritionist, running coach etc. to always gather as much knowledge as possible. I’ve never felt that it’s enough to just show up at training and do the same thing you’ve always done. Because of that I’ve always questioned everything, which is a good thing of course but it can also be a real pain for other involved. The problem is that in most gyms there are trainers who know Thaiboxing, and when they are giving advices to their fighters about strength training, diet or other topics it can go wrong. They don’t mean any harm of course, it’s just that the knowledge isn’t there and in my opinion it’s then better to admit that you don’t know and that the person should consult someone who’s a specialist within that specific area. But it feels like we’re heading in the right direction with this, and I think it’s thanks to the MMA since they are ahead of us on this in the USA.”

”I OFTEN FELT WEAK AND DIZZY AT PRACTICE, I GOT TROUBLE REMEMBERING STUFF AND DIFFICULTIES TO FALL ASLEEP”


When our conversation enters the topic of diet and nutrition I can hear the engagement increase in Madde’s voice. You can tell that this is something that she has a special relationship to and strong opinions about. “I knew what I was supposed to eat and how to handle it but I was always pushing myself to the limit of the lower weight classes and with time my body were responding less and less on my attempts to lose weight which resulted in more extreme methods. My target weight was 57 kg and even if I didn’t walk around with much more normally, my body fat level was so low that every tenth of a kilogram was a struggle. A strong memory I have is from a National Championship when me and Adde [Adel Ekvall] were sitting in the sauna and he lost several kilograms in like half an hour while I had only lost half a kilogram after four hours. I often felt weak and dizzy at practice, I had trouble remembering stuff and difficulties to fall asleep. The stomach was constantly aching but I didn’t listen to any of the warning signals.”

The 26th of April 2014 Madde woke up on the hallway floor in her home without knowing how she got there. She didn’t understand why she was wearing the National Team tracksuit or why the training bag was next to her. What had happened was that she had come home from a three days training camp with the National Team to prepare for the World Championship in Malaysia, a training camp she didn’t have a single memory from. “I hadn’t eaten solid food for six days and on top of that been forced to add a third workout session per day in order to lose more weight. The diet strategy was originally good but since the body stopped answering to it completely we had to decrease the amount of food, eliminate the carbs and eventually zero out more or less everything. Unfortunately I don’t have a problem with crossing the limit in pushing myself, as long as I believe it makes me a better fighter.”

Photo: Christian Gustafsson


”The undoubtedly biggest problem in Martial Arts is the destructive weight cutting! If there is any area in which I would like to make a difference it’s in that. It destroys so damn much! To walk around with a constant energy deficit ruins the performance but also the body’s physique and the brain’s mental capability. Unfortunately many who carry out a serious weight cut never manage to fully get back from it and quit. There are of course people who can handle it and deals with weight and diet in a good way, but sadly there is way too many who can’t. The problem with the fact that no one competes in their normal weight is that you are forced to cut weight since you otherwise will be the smallest out of everyone in that higher weight class, and it’s difficult to break that pattern. It would be good if they could arrange the weigh-ins in a different way so that the fighters weighed in on their way up to the ring instead of such a long time prior to the fight. Igor, my mental coach, said years before my collapse that I needed to take a few months off for recovery but I only reacted with anger and hung up the phone. When someone questioned my choices I immediately got upset and felt that they were holding me back. To be so obsessed with weight and all the time think about what to eat, and especially about what not to eat, is indeed an eating disorder. During practice I often counted the minutes until I could eat, and for a whole round of sparring I could think of potatoes for example. The destructive weight cutting really plagues everything and it’s something I don’t even wish upon my worst enemy. And add to that how much of the social interactions that involve food and it becomes obvious how limiting it is. I often sat with my friends when they had dinner and I didn’t eat, and if I did eat something I ordered a dry chicken filet with lettuce. Let me say again that it is possible to handle the weight cut right and it isn’t automatically dangerous or classified as an eating disorder, but it’s easy to end up there, especially if you’re like me and don’t see the warning signals. Actually the collapse was healthy for me since I started to handle my diet better after that and felt how I grew stronger and got happier; the positive effects came right away.”

New chapter in the fighting career and in life


The fact that Madde passed out on the hallway floor meant the end of the Thaiboxing chapter in her life. When she started to recover she didn’t feel the same hunger for the sport anymore and after so many years of training and competitions you can easily understand that she wanted something new. The fast growing sport of MMA hadn’t passed her by unnoticed and when the National Team coach Usama Aziz called and asked her if she wanted to join a National Team training camp she didn’t hesitate. “We had a good training crew consisting of great female fighters: Hanna Sillén, Pannie Kianzad, Linn Wennergren, Jill Holmström and Gabriella Ringblom. We were pretty close each other weight wise and everybody had different strengths to contribute with. When I started to level up the training for my MMA debut my body said stop. Every time I kicked, my hip was hurting so bad that I just couldn’t keep going. It would later be known that the muscle in the hip was completely torn off, so not so strange that it hurt!”

During her efforts in MMA Madde had started to visit the boxing gym BK Örnen to sharpen the boxing part of her game. Since the hip stopped her MMA career it was a natural choice to shift completely to boxing which she did last summer. The fact that she’s so content with BK Örnen was probably also a contributing factor. “That gym has exactly what I’m searching for in other gyms: they periodize the training and follow the guidelines of the Olympic Committee. It’s been pure joy to train there; they’re extremely professional. We trained hard and started to aim for my boxing debut, when I received the call that changed everything…”

”I VARIED BETWEEN LAYING ON THE FLOOR SCREAMING AND CRYING, AND SITTING APATHETIC LIKE A
GHOST AND JUST STARING AT THE WALL”


During the late summer of 2015 Madde was suffering from a constant headache, dizziness and felt a sharp pain every time she took a punch in the head. After two months of suffering she decided to go and see a physician for a checkup and the verdict that came 29th of September turned her whole world up-side-down. “I was out running when my cell phone rang. It was the doctor who said that he didn’t want to give me the information over the phone but at the same time he knew how badly I wanted an answer. I told him that it was okay because I had two minutes until commencing the next running interval. He tried to explain that I didn’t have to train more today, or actually not more in a very long time. The rest of the conversation I can only remember as fragments: brain damages, never fight again, you can die… I was completely chocked and the first two days I was devastated. However, I don’t think I really understood what it meant, because right away the whole media circus started with interviews in TV, radio and newspapers. But I guess it was a good thing that it hadn’t sunk in, ‘cause if it had, I wouldn’t have been able to control myself at all. It took about a month before I had understood fully and everything suddenly felt completely meaningless. I varied between laying on the floor screaming and crying, and sitting apathetic like a ghost and just staring at the wall. The fighting filled my days, I used it to handle frustration and anxiety, it was my job and a big part of my identity, and now suddenly it was gone. Replaced with emptiness.”

I can understand the sorrow to lose your profession but at the same time it feels like Madde is better equipped than most people to handle it considering she already had a long and very successful career and uncountable projects at the side that would be enough to keep most people busy full time. She can see how it’s perceived by others and that many people probably think that she should just pull herself together and move on. “I recently saw a headline saying that everything had been taken away from me. But of course there are many other things in my life, I have probably just not acknowledged and appreciated them yet, even if I’m slowly starting to do that now. Of course I understand others’ perspective and I don’t feel sorry for myself, nor do I want others to do that, but at the same time everything is relative and to me it was something huge that disappeared and it’s extremely difficult to handle. Fighting to me has been something much more than just a fun form of training that gives acknowledgement, it’s been my drug that I abused to handle myself and my emotions. Now I have to sit with all the sh-t that has been bubbling inside of me after fleeing from it during so many years. It’s been terrible, all the negative thoughts in my mind created a feeling of suffocation! But from time to time I take a step back and think about being thankful for still being alive, that I didn’t do one more sparring session and for everything I have. I believe in fate and that everything happened for a reason, so I guess this means it was time for something else in my life. A tiny seed of curiosity has slowly started to grow in me about what will happened next.”

Photo: Christian Gustafsson


With this serious state of health in mind I wonder if Madde would have done the same journey if she could turn back time or if she would have done anything different. “I don’t think you can avoid the risk of brain damage completely, but you can absolutely minimize it. For example, I wonder how much the fluid balance affects the sensitivity of the brain, how much less the brain can take during weight cut when you’re dried out. Then you should of course train with protection gear and listen to the signals of your body. I kept fighting for two months with pure pain in my head and sometimes I was so dizzy I punched in a totally wrong direction. As a new boxer I didn’t want it to seem like I wasn’t tough enough to fight with the experienced boxers so I kept going. But you have to learn to let go of the prestige and check up on injuries right away. I know that during a fight camp you don’t want to miss a single training session but you SHOULD if the body needs it! Unfortunately that’s exactly what I’m completely useless at, so maybe I shouldn’t be allowed to speak about it, but I just don’t want others to do the same mistakes I did. The fact that I’ve always kept going a 100% without stopping has been my biggest strength and my biggest weakness. Then I would of course have handled my diet differently, and also my mentality about life. It’s not bad to live and feel good at the same time as you are fighting. It will make you last longer if you’re happy and appreciate life.”

If you think that Madde’s calendar is empty now when her training and competing days are over, you’re mistaken. To just find a time slot for this interview was far from easy. “There are no normal weeks for me since I never have a week similar to another. I run training sessions here and there, coaching my PT customers, doing some modeling jobs, going to training events and training trips, hanging out with my family and friends, giving seminars, travelling between Halmstad-Stockholm-Malmö, and much more. My problem is that I squeeze too much into the calendar, if I find a gap I’ll fill it up right away. I have some trouble to calm down and just chill, it feels like I’m sitting at home rotting. And my legs start itching.”

Inspiration


Now when Madde has withdrawn from the fighting scene it’s exciting to hear who she sees as the next generation’s fighter to keep our eyes on, and also who she would like to read an interview with on FighterInterviews. “There’s been a generation shift lately, and during the last two years the fighters from my time has fallen out. But there is a girl at Allstars, Josefine Lindgren Knutsson, who started just when I phased out and you could tell that she’s tough and hungry. I saw her fight at a show in Lund a couple of weeks ago and I felt right away that she has it. That girl can go far for sure.”

“Ramon Dekkers has always been my favorite and I’m so happy I got the chance to train for him in Holland. My dog is actually named after him! Looking at female fighters I think, like I’ve mentioned, that Joanna Jędrzejczyk is a very cool fighter. She wrote to me when she was going to the UFC and it’s not very often I can have contact with a person I’ve lost to, but we talked a lot to each other. She hits hard and she’s got great technique but she also has a fire inside her. I think it becomes more and more important to be able to give the crowd a good show when you fight, to get more people to watch. About who to interview I think Jycken [Magnus Cedenblad] would be fun! He’s such a cool guy, there’s never a dull moment with him. He possesses that cool combination of being a great fighter and at the same time being smart and humble. He’s tough when he needs to be tough and in between he dares to talk about other things as well.”

The time has run too fast and it’s time for Madde to attend today’s rehab session. Before she leaves I want her to answer one final question: which is Sweden’s best fighting coast, east or west? You can tell that it’s a tricky question for her but after some thinking she replies: “I have to say the west coast, I’ve spent 29 years there and 2 years here in Stockholm, you can’t forget where you come from!”

FighterInterviews thanks Madeleine Vall for the interview and wish her all the best and good luck with her new challenges!