A shirtless John DeVall was slouched in his chair awaiting my arrival for a brief photo session. His mohawk was unkempt and his signature auburn beard was full and feral with long strands sticking out the sides of his cheeks like whiskers.
I was greeted with a smile, a handshake and a stern gaze. He and I had spoken many times before. Not much had changed about DeVall and he appeared just how I remembered him. But as he sat slumped in his desk chair in the office of DeVall MMA & BJJ, I noticed his belly folding over itself and I couldn’t help but smile and feel happy for the 30-year-old mixed martial artist. DeVall had gained some weight, and for once he’s not all that anxious to lose it.
No more weight cuts. No more endangerment. No more fights. For now, consider DeVall retired from MMA. The Sioux City fighter, who until recently was training with other MMA athletes in Colorado, has decided to focus on his own gym, training the next generation of Spartans.
As with most fighters who tend to retire multiple times before they’re completely finished with the sport, there’s a possibility that DeVall may return to fight again in the MMA. But as of now, the desire to pummel or kick or defeat opponents with a rear-naked choke is all but gone.
The announcement of his retirement was released via Facebook, a single post that garnered more than 600 likes and responses. With his world champion status and multiple title belts to his name, DeVall sees no reason to fight anymore.
“I just don’t have that instinct to ‘kill’ anymore,” said DeVall. “I’ve been kind of fighting the hard truth for the past few years, give or take.”
He doesn’t want money. He doesn’t want pride and glory. He just wants to take a step back for a while. As the lead instructor and owner of DeVall MMA & BJJ, DeVall wants to continue teaching his students and growing his gym on the fourth floor of the Benson Building.
As someone who has helped progress the MMA scene in Siouxland, DeVall intends to lead by example and work to help the community of fighters who are just starting to break a sweat.
“I have a huge yoke on my shoulder,” said DeVall. “I have a huge responsibility to more than myself. I am responsible for everyone who walks through the door [of DeVall MMA & BJJ]. I feel like I’ve been robbing them trying to be selfish.”
DeVall felt like a dad leaving his kids -- in this case, his students -- for six months of work. Well, now Daddy’s home. DeVall wants to right his wrongs and redeem himself, proving to everyone that he is a champ in the process.
“Just because I won a belt doesn’t make me a great person,” he said. “Just because I’ve done things that other people would love to do doesn’t make me the better man. I want to be that. I want to be the proper role model. I have that ability and I have that in me still.”
Years ago he was a vicious fighter (“a head hunter”). Afterwards, he became a martial artist with a new outlook, and slowly transitioned himself to his current role: a teacher. Which is what he will remain until he decides to enter the cage once more.
And if DeVall does choose to relinquish his retirement and fight again, it’s doubtful he’ll classify himself as a flyweight or a bantamweight. No, no. He’s tired of cutting weight, and to him it’s not worth the toll it takes. Judging by those belly folds, he’ll be billed as a heavyweight fighter. And DeVall doesn't seem to be bothered by that possibility. In fact, I’d wager he’s quite happy about that.
“I trust my gut and my gut’s never led me astray.”