Devhonte Johnson already had a lot of pressure on his shoulders when he earned his black belt. The Unity athlete was a standout performer at the purple and brown belt levels, winning multiple titles at Worlds, No-Gi Worlds, Euros, Pans, and No-Gi Pans before finally earning that coveted promotion in August of last year. The jiu-jitsu world has had their eyes on him since he established himself as a promising up-and-comer, and now, their interest in him has only increased since he joined the ranks of the world’s top competitors.
So far, Johnson’s done well for himself as a black belt. In addition to winning last year’s New York Fall No-Gi Open and this year’s Washington DC Open, he also earned bronze at No-Gi Worlds last year, losing to Jackson Sousa only by advantage. It’s an impressive start to a promising black belt career, and it gets even more impressive when you consider just how many responsibilities Johnson is juggling in addition to his competitive career.
“I have my own academy in NJ and I teach two classes a week at Unity NYC,” he explains. “Unlike when I was a lower belt and I could train, teach, and compete as much as I wanted, at black belt I’m learning to structure my class schedule and training in a way that puts me in the best positions to be successful in competition. Since getting the black belt, adjusting my teaching schedule has definitely been the biggest hurdle, but I think I’m starting to see what works for me.”
This alone is a lot for one person to handle (especially one who is in their competitive prime and looking to win some of the biggest competitions in the sport), but Johnson is used to having to overcome struggles to reach his goals. “Growing up in Paterson [New Jersey], you face unique challenges on the daily,” he says with a laugh. Still, though, he acknowledges that finding the time and energy for anything else — and anyone else — is a serious challenge given the work he’s putting in to achieve his goals.
“One thing I think I struggle with (and maybe every other jiu-jitsu competitor struggles with also) is finding balance,” he says. “I spend so much time training, teaching, and competing, it’s hard to find time to also play my other responsibilities in life such as [being] an older brother, son, even a friend. I dedicate so much of my time to my students and my goals that when I have spare time, I split it between sleeping and then whatever’s left goes to my family. I rarely see or speak to my friends outside of jiu-jitsu because I’m so busy with jiu-jitsu-related stuff.”
A glimpse at the past few weeks shows exactly why Johnson has to work to find time for anything other than jiu-jitsu. Just over a week ago, he was in Abu Dhabi competing at the UAEJJF World Pro. And tonight, he’ll be competing against Tac Team’s Matt Leighton at Fight 2 Win 111.
Johnson had a strong showing at the World Pro, narrowly losing his fight for third place via referee decision. He says he believes he fought well, and when we see him there again, his opponents will be going up against a more experienced and technical athlete. “If there’s any takeaway for me from that event, it’s just that I need to continue to focus on getting better and work on having better strategies against guys that are difficult to score on because of the style they choose to play.”
Now, Johnson is back in the USA and already excited to put it all on the line again against another tough opponent. He’s 2-1 so far for the promotion, and he’ll have to give this match his all if he wants to turn that “2” into a “3.” “Fight 2 Win is a fun event and Matt submitted Dante Leon in his last match here, so he clearly goes after it on this stage. It should be a fun fight for us and the fans watching.”
And after tonight?
“You can expect to see me at Dunkin Donuts ordering a chocolate frosted with sprinkles. JK, you’ll see me at Worlds next.”
Johnson may be half joking about the donuts, but his goal to pursue the sweeter things in life is very real. As he develops further as an athlete and coach, he also hopes to grow as a person, and for him, that entails finding a balance between his ever-busier BJJ career and his role in the lives of his loved ones… especially considering the fact that he now has an adorable niece.
“I wanna be there for her growth and for the life milestones of my siblings as they transition into young adults. I want to be a better boyfriend and son — little things that we take for granted in pursuit of our ambitions.”
If you’re ever on the East Coast, make sure you check out Johnson’s academy, Unity Jiu-Jitsu New Jersey. But no matter where you are tonight, watch Johnson vs. Leighton, plus many more matches when F2W 111 streams live on FloGrappling from Chicago.