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Thump ... thump ... thump!

That's the steady sound you hear as John DeVall kicks a body shield in preparation for an Extreme Challenge 229 Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) bout with champion Jake Klemme, scheduled for Saturday at WinnaVegas Casino - Resort.

Thump ... thump ... thump!

It's stiflingly hot inside the makeshift training gym DeVall rents inside a downtown office building but yet he's never been one to back down when the heat's on.

Thump ... thump ... thump!

For the 148-pound Sioux City man, a championship belt would be a welcome reward for all of the years he's spent in training. Also, he wants to bring respectability to a sport he feels has unfairly been maligned.

As hip-hop music plays in the background, DeVall trains some more.

Thump ... thump ... thump!

DeVall says he's wanted to become a boxer ever since he was a little boy.

"That was always my dream but a friend turned me onto the MMA," the 28-year-old remembers. "In boxing, you're using only your hands. In MMA, you're using everything. Boxing, kick boxing, grappling, Jujistu, anything that gets the job done."

With a professional record of five wins and five losses, this has become a full-time job for DeVall.

By 9 a.m., he's already in the gym for a strenuous two-and-a-half-hour workout.

And he'll continue at this pace until 9 p.m., alternating between cardio training and strength training in addition to coaching a steady stream of fellow fighters.

One of DeVall's longtime colleagues is Chris Galinsky, a 36-year-old father of six boys, who started MMA training four years ago as a way to lose weight and get back into shape.

"Growing up, I was into football, baseball, basketball, hockey, you name it," Galinsky, who works as a sales rep for Verizon Wireless and a bouncer at the Firehouse Bar, explains. "As an adult, I missed the excitement of competition that only a contact sport can provide."

Yet, it hasn't been an easy road for Galinsky, who admitted he got his "ass kicked" during his initial MMA bouts.

Still, he's confident about his upcoming Extreme Challenge bout with Nathan Cueller.

"I've been losing weight and training hard," Galinsky acknowledges. "Also, I want to make my boys proud of their dad."

As a parent, isn't Galinsky worried about the dangers of fighting?

"Sure, anyone who says he isn't nervous right before a bout is crazy," Galinsky says.

"Either that or he's crazy," interjects Chris Miller, a 24-year-old who has been involved in MMA for the past year and in the martial arts since he was a kid.

When he goes up against Bobby Downs in Extreme Challenge 229, it will be the third cage match of Miller's career.

"Win, lose or draw, I consider each fight to be a learning experience," the decidedly mellow Miller maintains. "You see what works and what didn't. Then, you go into your next fight a little bit stronger and a little bit smarter."

For Miller, who is a care provider for his ailing grandfather when he's not at the gym, MMA fighting represents a way up the ladder to success.

DeVall says he understand Miller's need to succeed.

Growing up poor, DeVall admits to being "a long-haired, hippie troublemaker" when he was younger.

"Fighting gave me a new outlook on life," he says. "And I'm a better man because of it."

A modest DeVall pins much of this on a busy schedule.

"When I'm not fighting, I'm training," he attests. "When I'm not training, I'm at home, watching fights on YouTube. Doesn't leave much time left for trouble making, does it?"

Regardless, DeVall says the fight world has always had an allure to the working class.

"Most of the guys here have blue-collar jobs and may never want to fight professionally," he says. "Still, they dream of something better in life that they're willing to strive for."

DeVall says he has similar dreams.

In fact, he'd like to see his gym expand to larger digs as a way to recreate Sioux City's boxing scene.

"Sioux City's always been a working class town and, back in the day, it had a thriving boxing scene," DeVall says. "I'd love to see a local Golden Gloves tournament to be held here."

And, if truth be told, DeVall would live to train the next guy (or gal) with pugilistic dreams.

But that can wait, since he still has a champion bout coming up.

As he cranks up some hip-hop, DeVall returns to training.

Thump ... thump ... thump!

Soon, he's joined by other fighters who share his passion for the sweet science.

Thump ... thump ... thump!

On the wall near the entrance to DeVall's gym hangs a piece of paper bearing a phrase that has become a personal credo for the ambitious fighter.

It reads: "Live like a pirate, die like a Spartan."

DeVall's pirate days may be a distant memory yet he has his eyes on a much more personal type of treasure.

Which is why he continues to train and why he continues to fight and why he continues to dream.

Thump ... thump ... thump!




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