Who is Jacob DeVree? Arizona featherweight is ready for Bellator tourney spotlight
Apache Junction, Arizona located in the shadows of the Superstition Mountain range and 45 minutes east of Phoenix is perhaps best known for its open dirt fields and winter retirement communities. With a population of less than 35,000 Apache Junction is one of the smaller cities in Maricopa County and is often overlooked at the eastern end of the county limits.
Bellator Fighting Championships featherweight Jacob DeVree (10-1) is from Apache Junction. In combat sports fighters often take on the personality of their home town, this has occurred more often in boxing's long and storied history. Joe Frazier's will was the personification of Philadelphia in the early 1970s and Kelly Pavilk's grit mirrored that of Youngstown in the mid-2000s. On a smaller scale Jacob DeVree's current reputation as a fighter is similar to that of the city he hails from.
In the field of eight featherweight fighters with dreams of grasping an oversized $100,000 check, DeVree's presence has flown under the radar. Marlon Sandro (17-2) brings a top ten ranking into the tournament, Pat Curran (13-4) is a former Bellator lightweight finalist and even DeVree's first round adversary Nazareno Malegarie (19-1) competed in the promotion's spring 2011 tournament. DeVree brings a seven fight winning streak into tourney, which begins in Florida on Saturday June 25th, but his bio still remains incomplete.
"I was working at an asphalt company for a long time but once I got the call from Bellator I decided at the point I needed to go full blast so I quit my job the day I got the contract. That was five weeks ago." DeVree said. "I got lucky and my bosses were behind me. They liked the fact that I fought and were always supporting me. So when I called and told them, they pretty much told me that knew at one point in time this was going to happen if I kept winning I was going to get signed by a bigger organization."
A life changing phone call from Bellator officials instantly alternated DeVree's career narrative. From unheralded regional fighter to three wins away from a $100K check, the 23 year old DeVree is ready to embrace the career change to full time professional MMA athlete.
"My manager first called me and told me about the possibility of it happening. From there my heart dropped and I just kept hoping." DeVree said. "A couple days later I got the phone call that I got the contract and I was ready to go. It was pretty much one of the happiest days I've had in a longtime. I just quit my job and went 100% with it."
"The first person I told was my girlfriend Heather. I called her right off the bat. She was super stoked for me, very excited. She was right behind me and told me to quit my job and make it count."
An Arizona native, DeVree's introduction to the sport of mixed martial arts, like many in the sport's third generation, began with an older sibling and the sound of a hard black plastic UFC VHS tape popped into the family's VCR. DeVree's casual interest in the violence of the UFC picked up when he joined his high school wrestling team as an Apache Junction Prospector. After actively wrestling since elementary school DeVree began training in MMA to keep his competitive fire lit.
The most famous MMA fighter to call Apache Junction home is former Ultimate Fighter 11 cast member Seth Baczynski. A high school teammate introduced DeVree to Baczynski and a big brother, little brother relationship eventually formed. Several years his elder, Baczynski played the role of professional mentor to DeVree during the early stages of his career. The two trained together at Southwest MMA in Tempe, AZ and both men picked up wins at Full Moon Fighting in February 2008; the card where DeVree made his pro MMA debut.
"My first coach hooked me up with a promotion down in Mexico and it was me and a bunch of my teammates all fighting on the same card. It was pretty nerve wracking, I was kind of scared and didn't know what to expect." DeVree said. "The guy I was fighting was a lot older so that was intimidating to. He threw a couple kicks at me; I ended up landing a left hand and choked him out from there. I remember all the nerves from a MMA fight was just a whole different animal to handle."
As a raw wrestler DeVree jumped out to a 3-0 start to his pro career. In his fourth pro fight Devree ran into Greg Jackson trained fighter Tommy Truex at a card in New Mexico. The three round decision loss was a wake-up call for the 20 year old DeVree.
"My first MMA loss actually opened my eyes a lot. I was trying to fight at 155 and I was walking around at 160, maybe 165 at the time. When we weighed-in me and Tommy looked at around the same size, but by the time we got in the cage Tommy Truex was giant." DeVree said. "He rehydrated back up and he was huge. It opened my eyes that you needed to cut weight to actually make it in this sport. At that point I was pretty much getting overpowered by a bigger guy."
"I'm probably 100% better since I fought that fight. My hands, my wrestling have all gotten better for MMA. At that point I was still just a wrestler coming into fighting."
DeVree has not lost since being outpointed by Truex in September 2008. During the seven fight win streak he will take into the Bellator 145 pound tournament, DeVree has stopped five of his opponents. Competing on regional shows in Arizona and Oklahoma DeVree has never headlined a MMA event.
What DeVree lacks in press clippings, his current training partners make up for in the media attention they garner. When the doors opened for Power MMA and Fitness in January 2011, the pet project of UFC fighters and former ASU wrestlers Ryan Bader, C.B Dollaway, and Aaron Simpson grabbed headlines all across the MMA community. Along with Baczynski, Robbie Lawler and Jesse Forbes, DeVree became one of the charter members of the Power MMA fight team.
"This is my second gym. I started out at Southwest with Seth. Seth didn't have that many big guys to work with at the time, so he left and joined Ryan Bader and them." DeVree said. "He trained with them and traveled around because they didn't have their own gym yet. So once they established their own gym and when they got it ready is when I was invited over to Power to train with Seth and Eric Larkin and all them."
Other than tournament favorite Sandro out of Brazil's famed Nova Uniao team, the case could be made that DeVree's camp at Power MMA cultivates the most major league ready MMA fighters. DeVree, the youngster of the fight team, is a quiet and humble student of the game that saviors the moments when he can sit back and learn from his teammates that have "been there before".
"What I've learned most is about the work ethic that a real fighter needs. Between fights I would get a little lazy." DeVree said. "Just working out here I quickly realized I need to keep it professional at all times and be ready at all times. These guys have helped my game tremendously through everything, my hands, my wrestling they showed me all the little tricks."
Now training in the family friendly suburb of Gilbert, AZ DeVree's maturity outside the cage may help him make a surprising run through a Bellator tournament. Outside of his inner circle of sparring partners and coaches, expectations among MMA pundits are low for DeVree's chances of catching fire and putting three wins in a row against Bellator quality opposition.
A father of a two year old daughter DeVree rise through the local scene has corresponded with his introduction to fatherhood. Finding motivation has never been a problem for the Arizona underdog.
"My daughter made me hungry to win and do something better. I don't know how far you can really go in construction. It pushed me to see and do my best in it." DeVree said. "She's actually the reason I won a couple of the hard fights I've won. She made me hungrier to keep winning and keep improving."
"It ages you so fast. Once she was born, I felt like I immediately had to be more of an adult. Watching her grow makes me feel older and older every day because time flies.
With a potential $100,000 lottery ticket in his hands DeVree knows that the monetary benefits of winning a Bellator tournament go hand in hand with the prestige of planting his name on MMA's featherweight map.
"That's been on my mind since day one. Just going in and winning this tournament is the first priority but that check is going to make it worthwhile, it could change my whole life for the better and that's what I'm after."