Photo by Jeff Sherwood / had the opportunity to speak with John David Shackelford of “The Fight Clinic” in Memphis, Tenn. recently.  John David is fresh off a big win over Mike Foster on May 15 at the Isle of Capri Casino in Lula, Miss.

John David made the entrance of the night at Lula by lighting up the arena with his personality and showmanship.  The fans were already in a frenzy as a result of a great fight card that evening, but when the lights dimmed and announcer Shane Hooper called John David Shackelford’s name, the banjos and fiddles rang out and the crowd came un-glued.

When the lights came up cheers exploded as John David danced his way to the cage wearing worn out jeans that were too short, a straw hat, and held a cane pole as if he were fishing for an opponent.  “That guy looks like Huck Finn!” shouted the guy next to me.  I just shook my head and laughed as “JD” captivated the crowd and approached the ring.

When the business of the fight began, Foster came out “wide-open” and met JD in the center of the cage with obvious confidence, even dropping his hands to his hips early on.

With only a few strikes thrown into the first round John David seized an opportunity to take the fight to the mat where he quickly maneuvered into position to secure a rear-naked choke on Foster.  Within seconds, referee Mike Cain was picking up Foster’s hand and watching it drop without resistance and called the fight as Foster lay on the floor, out for a few more seconds.

After the fight results were announced and John David’s hand was raised,  I noticed that he took great care to thank a number of people.  More than most fighters often do.  When I spoke with him later I realized why he went so far to thank so many people.

Even though John David Shackelford is a great fighter and showman, he seems to have learned some lessons in the trenches of the MMA game.  He has a sort of calm, laser-like focus coupled with motivation and desire that makes him dangerous.

However, he also has enough heart and humility to realize that a man rarely walks alone in this domain. He brings a level of honesty that is refreshing and we thank him for the time he took to speak to us.

Q:  JD, when did you first realize you wanted to pursue an MMA career?

A:   Actually, when I was really young, probably around thirteen years old.  My older brother brought a UFC DVD home and I watched it.  I immediately had an interest in it.  We went outside and raked up a bunch of leaves the next day into the shape of an Octagon and we rolled around in it like we were in the UFC.  My friends and neighbors would come over and we would play around like we were in the cage and I was always “Royce Gracie”.  He was one of my early idols of the sport.  We had a great time as kids wrestling around in that pile of leaves.  I just knew from then on I would love being in this sport.

Q:  How did you get started?

A:  When I was 17 in Memphis I saw Dave Ferguson in one of his big fights.  I started looking around and found his gym and was fortunate enough to be able to start training.  I got hooked on it then.  Six months later I had my first fight and have been addicted to it ever since.

Q:  What do you think led to your selection to appear on “The Ultimate Fighter” season 9?

A: During the show’s trials, I fancied up my hair and made up some shorts and a shirt with some crazy, eye catching drawings on it.  During the grappling and striking portions, I was very outgoing and animated.  Joe Silva saw that and I think that is what they were looking for, someone with personality and talent.  I believe they picked guys with skill, but also guys that would help them make good tv.  They selected me and that was it, I was on the show.

Q:  What is your perspective of what really caused your having to leave the show?

A:  I had gone to the doctor prior to heading out there because of a sore I had on my head.  He said that it could be any number of things.  When I got there it wasn’t bad.  But after having to sit in a sauna to cut weight for the fight, it made the sore look a lot worse.  After speaking to the doctor at the show, I went back out to work on cutting weight, thinking everything was cool. However, a staff member came out a little later to tell me that Dana needed to see me.  I knew the news wouldn’t be good.  He said that because they feared it might be contagious, they would rather me not fight.  That was basically it.  That being said, I packed my bags and headed out.

Q:  How hard was it to pick yourself up from such a devastating disappointment?

A:  It was difficult right in the beginning.  It was hard to watch the show when I got home.  After I saw what they showed on me, I couldn’t watch anymore initially.  I feel like I could have won the show so it was very tough for me.  I felt like that was a great break.  I want to make my sacrifices produce for me of course, so now I look at it like this, it was a great point and a good opportunity in my life and I use it as a positive motivation.  Now I am ready to make a great push toward getting to another big show.  I am a better man for the experience and have a lot to offer, plus, I WANT to fight.  This is what I have worked my whole life for so I can’t just sit back and do nothing.  Yeah, it was tough, but I think it will help me to be a much better fighter and give the fans more now that I lived through that.

Q:  Now that you have begun to fight again, tell us what your plan is for getting back to a big show?

A:  Well, the map for it begins with knocking some of the rust off and getting my confidence and mental game back up to par.  I plan to work some of the smaller shows and build on my experience with some game opponents.  After I get to that point pretty quickly, I hope to fight a really tough guy, maybe a UFC veteran or a veteran from another organization.  I plan to win that fight to show that I can hang with the best of them and gain the attention of some of the decision makers at the bigger shows.

Q:  Is there anyone specific that you would like to fight if you were given the chance?

A:  After I get through a few fights, I would love to get a rematch Bart Palaszewski whom I fought in the IFL.  And maybe one day I think I would love to match up against B.J. Penn or Gilbert Melendez  who are both guys I really look up too.  That would be a great experience to be in the Octagon with either of them if the time were right.

Q:  JD, I know this question isn’t usually posed to fighters, but what do you want people to know about John David Shackelford?

A:  I am like everybody else.  I put in my work and am definitely a guy who is chasing his dream.  I have made a lot of sacrifices to make my dream a reality.  Just like some of the bigger names in the sport, I understand that sacrifice is necessary.   If you look at the sacrifices that most good MMA fighters make, you would be fan of the sport overall just because of that. But I work really hard to give my fans a great show and give them something to be proud of when they cheer for me.  And I work extra hard for my sponsors and those who have invested in me.  I owe them that and I will always deliver.

Q:  What is your plan for the next twelve months as far as your MMA career goes?

A:  I am working to improve many things on myself right now.  Before, I was an athlete.  For the next twelve months I plan to become much more athletic, do more lifting, more cross-training, boxing and wrestling .  I have a plan, a roadmap so to speak.  I plan to follow that and see where it leads me.  Hopefully it will lead to a national stage. I am working on a date for next fight and hope that the fans will take the time to get to know me through and Facebook and come out to support me.   I am out there for them as much as for myself and I refuse to give less than 100%.

Q:  Thank you JD for taking the time to speak with us at Is there anyone you would like to thank?

A:  I want to thank:  Dave Ferguson, Tim Galluzzi, all my training partners, coaches, fans, friends,  family and sponsors.

By: Ken Dulaney

2 thoughts on “In the trenches; MMA as a career – a talk with John David Shackelford”
  1. What a great in depth article. Its really cool to get to know these fighters on a more personal level. I have seen JD fight about 5 times live and he gave 110% in all of those fights. He is also a real down to earth guy as he will talk MMA with anyone.

  2. Good article. JDS is an extremely talented and entertaining fighter. Best of luck to him.

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