‘It Only Lit A Fire In Me’ – How Duke Didier’s Olympic Heartbreak Fueled His MMA Rise

Duke Didier walks out at ONE 158

Australian star Duke “The Duke of Canberra” Didier always looked destined to be an elite athlete.

The towering 6-foot-4 heavyweight will face Ben “Vanilla Thunder” Tynan in a massive clash at ONE Fight Night 21: Eersel vs. Nicolas on Prime Video, but his move to mixed martial arts was a relatively late one.

While Didier has the chance to put his name among the division’s top contenders when he takes on his Canadian opponent at Lumpinee Boxing Stadium on Friday, April 5, other paths could have taken him on a completely different trajectory.

Before Didier’s return to action in Bangkok, Thailand, find out how “The Duke of Canberra” made it to the pinnacle of martial arts after a career spent chasing other dreams.

A Sporting Youth

Didier was born in the Australian capital of Canberra in 1989, where much of his childhood was geared toward sport.

His father, Geoff, was a decorated rugby union player who was a legend at the local ACT Brumbies and represented the Australian national team.

Reflecting on his upbringing, Didier said:

“I had a pretty good life growing up, I came from a sporting background. My dad was an elite rugby player, so that was what I started doing in sports. I started playing rugby when I was nine.

“My dad played for the Wallabies and the Brumbies. He was a pro and very well renowned, especially here in Canberra.”

His father was both his biggest role model and biggest supporter, and with the genes to match the motivation, he had a good run as a rugby player.

Seeing someone so close to him as a professional athlete, Didier knew it was possible for him too, and that has been his goal ever since.

He explained:

“My dad has always been a big influence for me. He’s never ever pushed me into doing any particular sport. He’s always just been a great role model and been super supportive of whatever I’ve chosen.

“I think that just gave me the drive and the motivation to make sure that I did achieve [success] because it was something that I’ve seen is possible and not out of reach.”

Martial Arts Takeover

Didier’s move into martial arts came as a supplement to his rugby career but eventually superseded his first love.

Aged nine, he took up judo to help him with his tackling, but he had a natural affinity for the sport. He continued it alongside rugby for a long time, but deep down Didier always favored the martial art.

“The Duke of Canberra” recalled:

“I started doing judo because I was told at my school that it would help my tackling for rugby. Where I went to school, just so happened the judo program there was one of the most elite judo programs in the country with several Olympians. So, I ended up catching the bug.”

“I sort of gave up on the rugby and just stuck with judo throughout the years. I just gravitated to what I was good at, so if I was better at rugby, you probably would have seen me playing rugby, but I was better at judo.

“I think it was pretty clear between 16 and 17 that I’d chosen my path and I knew what my number one sport was. By 20, I didn’t really play any rugby ever again.”

Didier achieved an incredible amount throughout a long career in “the gentle way,” including multiple national titles, an Oceania Championship, and medals at the Asian and U.S. Opens.

He got to see the world and learned what it took to compete at a world-class level, and although he ultimately missed out on his Olympic dream, he’s proud of the role that judo has played in his life.

The 34-year-old said:

“The opportunities I was given at such a young age in judo are what opened those doors for me. I was picked at 13 years old to go on the junior Australian team and I got to compete in Japan at such a young age.

“And then from then, that only led to more and more international trips. My passport is very full and I can thank judo for that.

“I’ve seen the world multiple times in corners of the world that I know I’ll never get back to, and I think that’s because of because of that initial drive that I had and the support I had from my mum and my dad.”

Disappointment As A Catalyst For Change

Although Didier was still fully engrossed in his judo career, he came across mixed martial arts in the late 2000s and there was something about it that called to him.

He started to cross-train in MMA and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and competed in the new styles alongside his judo commitments, but it was his disappointment at not making the 2016 Olympics that saw him commit fully to fighting.

Didier explained:

“I traveled all over the world for judo. Then after that, I sort of decided that I wanted to take my talents elsewhere. That’s what led me to mixed martial arts, but there was a bit of an overlap period there.

“My last run in judo was in 2016. I quit my job to go to try and qualify for the Olympics. I ended up in the shadow squad, I was [ranked] 23 or 24 in the world, but I needed to be 22 in the world to be selected for the Olympics.

“In 20 previous cycles, since I’d been Oceania champion, that would’ve been enough to qualify me for the Olympics. So, this was the hardest qualification criteria and I’d nearly qualified. It was pretty heartbreaking.”

Coming so close but still coming up short was a massive blow for Didier, but looking back, he believes it was an important catalyst that propelled him to success in mixed martial arts.

He added:

“That was probably the biggest setback and the most grieving I’ve done. I’d gone all-in on something and I felt really shattered.

“But by 2017, I was the main event at the AIC Arena for Brace FC and won the Australian title in mixed martial arts. I made sure I bounced back and that’s what I always do.

“In the end, it only lit a fire in me that may not have been lit quite as quite as much if I’d have achieved that goal.”

Looking To The Top In MMA

Now standing at 8-2 as a professional and running his facility called Progression MMA in Canberra, Didier is thrilled that his switch of codes has worked out.

However, he’s still ambitious. Now that he’s competing on the global stage, he wants to show that he is among the world’s best, and that’s what he plans to do with a victory over Ben Tynan at ONE Fight Night 21 on Prime Video.

“The Duke of Canberra” said:

“Honestly, it’s just really gratifying and I feel like it’s a culmination of all my hard work and all my life’s work to be given this stage to ply my trade on now. And I’m so glad that I’ve got to be able to do this on an international level and get that sort of mainstream exposure that I feel like I deserve.

“[Getting to ONE] was a goal I set for myself a very long time ago, and now my next goal is to make sure that I assert myself as a winner in this promotion.

“I know I have the tools and the ability to get it done. So that’s just all I’ve gotta do now.”

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