FORKED RIVER, N.J. -- It is difficult to describe Tom DeBlass, which makes profiling the light heavyweight prospect an awkward proposition. He is endlessly fascinating for a myriad of reasons, but it is hard to pinpoint just one.
He is a fighter.
DeBlass has been training for almost 10 years, with an extensive background in jiu-jitsu. His accolades in the discipline come in various competitions, from the North American Grappling Association and Grapplers Quest to the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu World Championships and the Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships.
He is a family man.
DeBlass and his fiancé, Delilah, have a daughter, Isabelle, whose name is tattooed on his forearm.
“I think what they do is keep me in line,” he told Sherdog.com. “I was always a good guy, but if they weren’t there, maybe I’d be going out a little bit more or maybe I’d have my focus on other things. I was afraid it would take away from my training having a child, but I think it just pushes me to train harder. It’s all I have to do. Train, fight, teach and come home to my family.”
Owner of Ocean County Jiu-Jitsu, a successful New Jersey gym on the verge of expansion, he is also the Ring of Combat light heavyweight and heavyweight champion.
DeBlass won the heavyweight belt at Ring of Combat 39 in February, defeating Randy Smith in just 41 seconds. The win moved him to 7-0 in MMA, leaving pundits to discuss when -- not if -- the 29-year-old would get into the UFC. Driven to succeed, DeBlass never gets too high or too low about anything. He always looks to improve, which is why he transitioned to MMA after experiencing such success in jiu-jitsu. That drive has landed him a spot opposite Cyrille Diabate at UFC on Fuel TV 2 on April 14 in Stockholm, Sweden.
“My greatest qualities are my worst qualities,” DeBlass said. “I’m never really happy. I’m only happy when I step back and I look at the situation from an outsider’s point of view. To me, this is a beautiful school -- and everything we have -- but it could be gone just like that, so we have to make it better.
“I watched my fight with Randy, and, even though it was 41 seconds, my hands were a little bit too low. My feints had nothing behind them,” he added. “Most people striving for success have to be perfectionists. At the same time, I don’t recommend that way of life for constant happiness. I don’t know why I’m that way, but I am.”
This is where the former school teacher in DeBlass shines through. Another win was nice. However, “The Professor” said he was excited only for “about an hour” after his victory over Smith. The key to understanding how DeBlass ticks is assessing how everyone is faring around him.
“I could honestly say it hasn’t been a title or a championship,” DeBlass said. “It’s been watching other people be happy because of the things I’ve done. My family comes together like they’ve never come together before for my fights. My students believe a bit more in themselves because they see all the hard work I put in pays off. That’s the proudest and the happiest that I am, and that’s the most constant happiness that I have -- watching them.”
DeBlass’ move from jiu-jitsu to MMA occurred following a controversial decision loss to Roberto Abreu at the ADCC tournament in 2009. Since then, it seems as if he has been looking to achieve a balance that only the highs and lows of competition can offer. The loss to Abreu took away at least some of his love for jiu-jitsu and kept his mind moving towards MMA.
“I think the toughest point is whenever you think you’re on top, you always get knocked back down,” DeBlass said. “I’m waiting for that to happen. Everybody says that it has to happen. I want to believe that it won’t happen. Just having that haunts you every day you wake up. Yeah, I’m on top of the world now, but that could end real quick. Just knowing the possibility that I could lose, it’s disappointing before it’s even happened.”
Such thoughts are part of the charm when one meets DeBlass. He trains with onetime UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar, former middleweight King of Pancrase Ricardo Almeida and the famed Renzo Gracie, among others. However, arrive at his gym before class and one can find him checking in with everyone for an update on what is going on in their lives; explaining to one student that he will not be able to argue with his newly pregnant girlfriend; congratulating the daughter of another student for just earning the first stripe on her belt.
DeBlass remains humble in the face of success.
“I’m no more special than the next guy,” he said. “I have certain gifts that God gave to me and I’m utilizing them, but my gifts are no more important than the carpenter’s gifts. It’s just that fighting is looked at with a little bit more passion, but I let everyone know that I’m not any more special than they are. Without them, who am I?
“I’m fighting for the sole purpose to make people happy, to make people believers,” DeBlass added. “I think, since I give so much back to the people and so much back to the community and I’ll do anything for them, I basically know everybody on a personal level that comes to my fights. I’m never too good to talk to anybody. I’m just a normal guy. They deserve just as much credit as I do.”
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