Had John DeVall actually retired like he said he would, the opportunity to fight for the Legacy Fighting Alliance (LFA) probably wouldn’t have happened.
Now he is only a day away from fighting against his featherweight opponent Nate Jennerman; a fight that DeVall believes, if he wins, he has a good chance to make it to the next level of mixed martial arts promotion: the Ultimate Fighting Championship. It’s a good thing the Sioux City fight cancelled his plans to withdraw himself from the sport.
About a year-and-a-half ago, DeVall announced his retirement. Back then even I think I had my doubts as to how long that would last, evidenced by my 2016 article’s headline, “Out of the cage: DeVall retires from MMA… for now.”
At that time, I remember it felt like speaking to an entirely different fighter.
The world champion title holder was slouched in a chair and had a bit of flab accumulated around his midsection. He looked like an old beast exhausted from the hunt. He revealed that he wouldn’t be cutting weight as drastically as he had been, and would focus his energy on his gym, DeVall MMA & BJJ.
Both goals have been maintained since then, however that supposed retirement was not permanent. When DeVall decided it was time to quit, he reflected his attitude toward MMA had changed. The politics of the sport and the constant struggle to cut weight to reach 125 pounds was a heavy burden to bear.
“It aged me dramatically,” said DeVall, 32. “It took the life out of me. It took the love of the sport away from me. It made me depressed. It made me not the person that I should be. It was stripping everything about my life away from me that made me enjoy living.”
But after six months, the dry spell from fighting was driving him nuts. As a naturally goal-driven person, he didn’t have anything to chase. Fighting was something that always kept him in tune both physically and mentally. “Fighting was my job,” he said. “And I just quit. I’ve never been a quitter and it was driving me off the wall.”
DeVall eventually reunited with his old passion and took fights at heavier weight classes than what he had been used to prior to his retirement. Although he was serious about quitting in 2016, DeVall credited his tenaciousness and his will to fight for getting him back in the cage.
“I was choosing not listen to my gut,” he said. “Your intuition is always correct. A lot of times I wouldn’t follow my gut. I did what I thought was correct. I figured out that wasn’t the thing to do. If your gut tells you to do something, always trust it. It’s the best thing for you. That’s why I got back into fighting.”
The fighter has fought a handful of times leading up to his LFA bout and is currently on a four-fight winning streak. Much like his previous run-ins with promotions like King of the Cage and Bellator, DeVall sees the fight as an opportunity for himself and his hometown.
“I have an opportunity to be the first guy leading to break the doors for everybody to follow,” he said. “That’s something I’ve strove to do in my career. I was told living in Sioux City you can’t amount to anything. It’s something that bothers me. It’s kind of like this fight I have coming up. I’ve listened to a couple of [Jennerman’s] interviews and he thinks he’s going to knock me out either late in the first round or the second round.
“He said he respects me, but at the same time he’s talking about how he’s better at this than me, he’s better at that than me. All of his interviews remind me of myself. I’m fighting a younger version of myself that has all the best training in the world, but he doesn’t have anybody to tell him he’s not the best.”
The LFA fight between DeVall and Jennerman takes place Friday (March 2) at Mystic Lake Casino in Prior Lake, Minnesota. DeVall said he has nothing to lose and everything to gain. “LFA is the biggest feeder for the UFC,” said DeVall. “Just last year they put over 100 fighters into the UFC. They’re that platform.”
DeVall acknowledges that he is the “gatekeeper” of his opponent, who is seven years younger than the Sioux City-born fighter. Nevertheless, DeVall intends to defeat Jennerman and validate his – and by extension, Sioux City’s -- place in the fighting world.
“I’m the old, dirty dog,” he said. “I’m the guy that, if he beats me, it legitimizes him as a tough fighter. […] But if I win, it helps me so much. It helps my school, it helps my city. I’d be the first pro from Sioux City to fight for LFA and win.”