Marcelo Garcia black belt Dillon Danis is cool, calm and collected speaking from his New York base. Awarded his ‘Faixa Preta’ back in April, Danis has gone out of his way to announce himself in the top ranks of jiu jitsu since his promotion.
Exposure can be hard to come by in his world. Therefore, when Danis was given the opportunity to compete at Metamoris on the same day as the ADCC trials, he had a difficult choice to make. Famously, he went with the submission only pay-per-view event and although he stopped beloved MMA veteran Joe Lauzon with a D'Arce choke and won himself a host of new fans, Danis couldn’t help but think of the ADCC trials as an opportunity missed.
Garcia’s stronghold in ‘The Big Apple’ not only forges strong grapplers but strong relationships too. Although he missed the trials, Danis’s teammates constantly told the submission specialist that an invite to what he considers the Olympics of grappling would come. Finally, Danis got the nod 12 weeks ago.
“I don’t know if I expected it, but I definitely thought it was a possibility,” says Danis, hours before his flight leaves for Sao Paulo. “My teammates have always thought I would be invited because when I fought on Metamoris that was the same day as the ADCC trial, so that kind of messed things up for me. (My team) were telling me not to worry about it, that I would get a call, so it was cool to have that support.
“Getting invited to ADCC does mean a lot to me. For me, when I was a kid, all I watched was ADCC, I’m sure it’s the same for everyone that trains jiu jitsu. It’s weird feeling when you receive that invite, it shows that all of your hard work has finally paid off.”
With Garcia himself unable to travel to corner Danis, he has drafted in his close friend and fellow ‘Dream Team’ member Mansher ‘Munchie’ Khera. Dedicated training partners, Danis is more than comfortable with having Khera in his corner to aid him through his tornado-like transitions and endless attacks.
His style itself has a lot to do with the opportunities that keep coming his way. The Garcia charge is constantly looking to finish his counterparts. And it’s not that he has consciously chosen that approach, it is simply the way he competes.
“I just want to dominate. When I say dominate, I’m talking about me getting a finish or me breaking my opponent. When I get out there my philosophy is all about going—I don’t want to stop for a second. I want overwhelm my opponent until he breaks.
“The goal is not to be exciting, it’s more about pushing a pace that the other guy can’t keep up with. That’s all that I’m thinking about in my head. ‘I want to change this guy’s life forever’, is what I’m thinking. I want him to leave the mat as a different person. When they leave the mat, I want them to hope that they never fight me again. I want to make it miserable for them.
“When I go in there with that mentality and aggression, the matches just end up being exciting. People want to see guys chasing down submissions and trying to force he action, that’s what I try to do in every match,” he explains.
Of course, Danis’s style is one that will suit the jiu jitsu movement’s current growth spurt. More people consume the sport than ever before and where some combat sports fans identify stalling as one of the negatives aspects of the game, Danis’s approach provides a perfect tonic for that.
“When you think about IBJJF tournaments, they’re kind of more for yourself. When you go on to Metamoris and shows like that, maybe then it’s a little bit more important to showcase an entertaining style. For me, even when I’m at the Worlds I’m usually pretty exciting, but again that’s because I’m being aggressive and trying to dominate. I don’t necessarily worry about scoring points.
“If I was in the final of the Worlds and nobody was there, if it was just on the side of the street or something, I wouldn’t change a thing about the way I compete. It always comes down to the person.
“The thing that annoys me is when people go into a match and they already have planned to stall or win in a certain way before it even begins. If you’re in the last minute and you’re up by two points, sometimes you’ve got to hold, that’s okay. But if you go into a match and your whole objective is to do that and not to submit the other guy – that’s when the sport becomes boring.”
The division that awaits Danis is full of highly skilled, celebrated members of the jiu jitsu community including lightweight icon Lucas Lepri and 2011 world champion Gilbert ‘Durinho’ Burns. As far as the New Yorker is concerned, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“If I’m going to win ADCC, I want all the best guys to be there. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I like having big names because they’re bigger challenges. I’m sad that JT (Torres) had to pull out. JT was probably one of the top guys in the bracket. I respect him a lot, his game is amazing and he’s an amazing fighter.
“To me, all of the guys are just different obstacles that I have to get over. It doesn’t matter if they’re the first match, second match or the finals, I’m going to have to get through them to be the champion anyway.
“I’m sure there are some people that are underestimating me going in here, but the guys who train with me and the guys I grew up with know that I’ve been ready for this for a long time. I’ve been in this game a long time, and even when I was young people used to say ‘this guy is going to be in ADCC.’
“For the people who don’t think I’m ready, that’s fine too. I want to prove them wrong. It doesn’t matter what they think, in the end they’re going to see my style and how I fight.
“I know a lot of guys go over there and they’re happy to call themselves an ‘ADCC veteran’, but that doesn’t matter to me either. I only want the gold. There is nothing else that can make me happy other than winning that. I have a lot of belief in myself so if I came back home with anything less it would be a failure for me. I’m not just going over there to participate.”
As with any sport, rivalries emerge as the athletes go on their competitive journeys. Recently, a social media spat between Danis and John Danaher standout Garry Tonon has created a lot of headlines inside the community. With Tonon being in the same bracket as Danis this weekend, a lot of people are anticipating a grudge match between the two.
“It kind of set off on Instagram and he’s just kind of kept going with it,” claims Danis. “It’s whatever, I don’t hate him as a person, but sometimes I hate the way he acts and the way he talks. He runs his mouth a little bit, but all the talking doesn’t really mean anything until you get on the mat and fight.
“Really, it doesn’t matter to me who I fight because the end goal is to be ADCC champion. There’s Garry, there’s Lucas Lepri—but it doesn’t matter. I’m here to win gold so I’m prepared to fight everybody.”
Whatever happens this weekend, Danis will visit celebrated chef Alex Atala after the action plays out in Sao Paulo as a treat having endured a particularly hectic schedule in terms of dietary requirements. Finally, the jiu jitsu ace endeavored to describe what it would mean to him to claim a gold medal just four months into his black belt tenure.
“I can’t even describe what it would feel like (to win gold). It’s impossible to describe the magnitude of ADCC to jiu-jitsu competitors. It’s like winning the Olympics. I still remember being a kid and watching the videos. Even in my first year as a wrestler, I was a freshman and my coach had all of the videos. We would put them on and because I was only wrestling I wouldn’t even know what was going on. To look back and to know now that I will fight at that event, it’s crazy.”
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