- Dillon Danis, 25, fights in Bellator's welterweight division
- Danis had a lengthy career in Brazilian jiu jitsu before transitioning to MMA
- The New Yorker has had a polarizing career to date
Ah, Dillon Danis.
Because you’re reading this article, one of three things is likely true:
- You hate Dillon Danis and his self-promotion, and you’re eager to read about how bad he is.
- You love Dillon Danis and his self-promotion, and you’re eager to read about how good he is.
- You’re genuinely curious as to how good Dillon Danis really is.
Well, let’s find out.
Who is Dillon Danis?
Dillon Danis, 25, is a Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt and professional mixed martial artist competing in Bellator MMA‘s welterweight division.
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Danis, who was born in Parsippany Hills, New Jersey, began jiu jitsu at the age of 15 as a means of defending himself. Apparently, Danis had gotten into a street fight in which he was able to pull off a crude version of a choke, and he quickly joined a jiu jitsu gym to build on his natural instincts.
By his own admission, Danis was not a hefty teenager. The lanky 15-year-old was in for a rude awakening, as he joined the jiu jitsu academy of Jamie Cruz, a Renzo Gracie black belt and renowned BJJ instructor.
Danis began to train more and more frequently in jiu jitsu, and he also started wrestling for his high school, Parsippany Hills High School. According to HighSchoolSportsNJ, Danis was able to put together two successful wrestling campaigns, compiling a record of 29-6 with 15 pins from 2010-2012.
As Danis’ affinity for jiu jitsu grew, he began visiting and training at the famed, eponymous Marcelo Garcia Academy in New York City, run by jiu jitsu icon Marcelo Garcia.
Garcia is, without a doubt, one of the best grapplers of all time. The legendary Brazilian won five World Championships and four championships at the Abu Dhabi Combat Club championships (ADCCs), which is widely regarded as the most prestigious competition in jiu jitsu.
At the age of 19, Danis decided to pursue a career in jiu jitsu, moving to New York City to train full-time with Garcia at his academy.
Danis would go on to accomplish dozens of feats in the world of Brazilian jiu jitsu, parlaying his grappling successes into a gig as a training partner of two-division UFC champion Conor McGregor, which caused his notoriety and fame to skyrocket. Additionally, Danis would begin an MMA career of his own, going 1-0 in the Bellator cage.
What did Dillon Danis accomplish?
Dillon Danis is a polarizing figure, garnering heaps of controversy for comments he makes about his impact in jiu jitsu and MMA, his wealth, and his abilities.
In reality, Danis is an extremely talented grappler. From 2012 to 2015, Danis racked up dozens of medals from regional to international competitions as he made his way from purple to brown belt.
In 2012, took home the bronze medal at the IBJJF Pan American No-Gi championships. After being promoted to brown belt, in 2013, Danis repeated that feat, this time in the Absolute, or open-weight, division.
Danis’ brown belt campaign was a good one. Danis took home gold in both his weight class and the Absolute at the IBJJF New York Summer Open and impressively did so again at both the IBJJF Pan American and IBJJF Pan American No-Gi Championships.
2014 continued to be a good year for Danis, who, in addition to four Pan American gold medals, became the UAEJJF Abu Dhabi World Pro champion, too.
But for all of Danis’ 2014 brown belt accolades, his most notable performances were at the IBJJF World Championships, where Danis became a World champion not once, nor twice, but three times. Danis won his weight class in the gi and added two no-gi gold medals in his weight class and the Absolute.
Danis began his 2015 as a brown belt, picking up a silver medal at the IBJJF New York Spring Open in the gi and a gold medal in the IBJJF New York Spring Open No-Gi Absolute division. The New Jerseyian was also the IBJJF Boca Raton International Open champion at brown belt.
As a result of his successes, Marcelo Garcia awarded Danis his black belt, signaling the end of Danis’ colored belts career and the beginning of his journey at the top of the sport.
What did Danis do at black belt?
While earning a black belt is often the highest honor a jiu jitsu player can receive, it’s also one of the biggest challenges. By donning his black belt, Danis now faced some of the toughest names jiu jitsu had to offer.
As such, Danis’ record at black belt is checkered. He sports an 18-16 record, according to foremost jiu jitsu database BJJHeroes, but has faced a murderers’ row of opponents.
In his first appearance at ADCC, Danis faced famed Danaher Death Squad member and multi-time Eddie Bravo Invitational (EBI) champion Garry Tonon. Tonon, now an undefeated contender in ONE Championship, handed Danis the only submission loss of his black belt career, submitting Danis with a brutal inside heel hook.
After the Tonon loss, Danis would go on a seven-match winning streak, which included superfights and an appearance at the IBJJF Pan American No-Gi Championships.
On the winning streak, Danis submitted UFC legend Joe Lauzon with a D’Arce choke at Metamoris 6 and 2013 IBJJF World champion Jackson Sousa with an inside heel hook at Polaris 4 before arriving at the Pan Ams.
At the 2016 Pan American No-Gi Championships, Danis had his breakout performance at black belt. Danis submitted Gottrell King and outpointed Unity Jiu Jitsu founder and Brazilian legend Murilo Santana to win gold his weight class. But Danis wasn’t done there.
He submitted both Todd Mueckenheim and three-time Pan American champion Aaron “Tex” Johnson with arm-in guillotines to close out the Absolute division with friend and teammate Jonathan Satava.
Danis’ 2016 also featured hard-fought matches with some of the most famed and talented names in jiu jitsu. Danis was outpointed by 2017 World champion Nicholas Meregali and three-time World champion Otavio Sousa, and lost on an advantage to six-time World champion Leandro Lo.
Danis also scored some impressive wins, submitting three-time World No-Gi champion Josh Hinger with a triangle, beating 2017 Pan American champion Patrick Gaudio and two-time Brazilian National champion Luan Carvalho by advantage, and beating ACBJJ LW Grand Prix Champion Edwin Najmi on points.
2017 was a tougher year for Danis, and also his last to date as an active jiu jitsu competitor, as he has since focused on his MMA career.
Danis competed several times in 2017, virtually all of which came against world-class opposition. At the 2017 ADCC, Danis submitted Japanese grappler and MMA fighter Yukiyasu Ozawa before falling to 2018 World champion Mahamed Aly and consensus top no-gi grappler Gordon Ryan by penalty and referee’s decision, respectively.
Garry Tonon again prevailed when Danis competed against him in a Polaris 5 rematch, taking the pair’s second meeting by decision.
Danis then lost on points to World champions Lucas “Hulk” Barbosa and Luiz Panza at the World Championships. He also lost to UFC veteran Jake Shields at Submission Underground 4 in overtime.
Danis defeated fellow Bellator prospect and noted, prolific jiu jitsu competitor AJ Agazarm twice in 2017, once at the Atlanta Spring Open and once in Submission Underground.
What has Danis done in MMA?
Ahead of Conor McGregor’s UFC 202 rematch with Nate Diaz, who had beaten him at UFC 196 via submission, McGregor enlisted the help of a similarly lanky, talented jiu jitsu competitor to help bolster his grappling acumen. That man was Dillon Danis (1-0).
Danis and McGregor quickly became fast friends, often spending time with one another outside of the gym. Inside the gym, the two trained day-in and day-out in order to get McGregor ready for the slick submission skills of Diaz.
This, coupled with an increasingly brash social media presence, was how Danis became a household name among MMA fans.
In March of 2017, Dillon Danis began his own MMA career, as he signed with Bellator amid much fanfare. Danis immediately began asserting his presence, boasting that he was the highest paid and most famous fighter on the Bellator roster.
Danis debuted in April of 2018 against Kyle Walker (2-5), then a 2-4 journeyman with two losses by submission. As such, Danis closed as a massive, -1250 favorite.
After a relatively bumpy start in which Danis seemed slightly fazed on the feet, his high-caliber jiu jitsu took over, as Danis attacked with a textbook perfect toe-hold, tapping Walker in just minutes.
How controversial is Danis?
Since that 2018 bout, Danis has been out of action, but that was not a self-imposed hiatus.
In October, Danis was a part of Conor McGregor’s corner during the massive UFC 229 fight between McGregor and UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. He was also a crucial part of the post-fight brawl that followed.
Stories conflict as to what happened, but Danis is alleged to have said or done something to upset Nurmagomedov after the Russian’s fourth-round submission win, who in turn leaped from the cage to attack Danis.
Danis, with a UFC fighter deadset on attacking him, threw off several strikes in the ensuing chaos.
The Nevada State Athletic Commission handed Danis a seven-month suspension retroactive to the incident and a $7,500 fine, both of which have been honored by Danis.
Now, Danis can compete at the upcoming Bellator 222 card on June 14.
Danis has also attracted controversy, as previously alluded to, for his brash, sometimes outlandish statements. He has repeatedly claimed to be the highest paid and most famous fighter on the Bellator roster, the “Face of Jiu Jitsu”, and the best grappler in MMA, all claims that are hotly disputed by fighters, fans, and pundits alike.
However, this is all likely a means for Danis to promote himself, and it has worked. Danis’ comments have made him a much more popular fighter, and more and more fans have paid attention to his career as a result of his gimmick than would have otherwise.
In this way, Danis is similar to former UFC interim welterweight champion Colby Covington, who uses a social media troll-like gimmick as self-promotion, or UFC flyweight and bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo, who has embraced his so-called “cringe-y” personality.
Perhaps Danis’ most notable controversy in jiu jitsu stems from his suspension from the Marcelo Garcia Academy alongside his friend and teammate Mansher Khera.
Both Danis and Khera were ousted from the academy in April of 2017. In a follow-up video, Marcelo Garcia appeared to reference Danis’ increasingly boastful and brash social media usage, as well as his growing notoriety, adding, “I realize people was focused just on social media, was focussed on other stuff that everyone is aware about — fame, stuff like that. And that really forced me to take a decision… I don’t kick people out. I really don’t want to do that. I told them to take some time off, figure out, one day if they have a better thought, they come here and I’ll be here and we’ll talk.”
What does it all mean?
Dillon Danis is polarizing, controversial, and brash. Dillon Danis is talented, popular, and successful.
When it comes to breaking down how “good” Dillon Danis is, it isn’t a difficult task. He’s an incredibly adept grappler who has competed against the best of the best in jiu jitsu. With his grappling skill, he is easily one of the best jiu jitsu players in Bellator’s welterweight division, if not the Bellator roster.
As an MMA fighter, he is just 1-0. Without his notoriety, Danis would be a hyped jiu jitsu specialist experiencing all the bumps and growing pains of learning to strike and adapt his jiu jitsu to MMA. He’d be a 1-0 prospect with infinitely better jiu jitsu than most 1-0 prospects.
But, as a grappler, it can sometimes be overstated how much Danis accomplished. Despite facing the best of the best, Danis has often come up just shy of beating them. At black belt, Danis’ most notable achievement is double-gold at the Pan American No-Gi Championships, which he won back in 2016.
He is not the “Face of Jiu Jitsu”, or the best grappler in MMA, but that’s not to say he isn’t one of the most popular grapplers or one of the best grapplers to have switched over to MMA. Ultimately, Dillon Danis is a talented grappler looking to become a well-rounded fighter and the best in MMA.
Danis isn’t there yet, but nothing is keeping him from achieving that down the line.
Michael Fiedel is The Body Lock's deputy editor, a staff writer for FloCombat, and a Russell-Rice scholarship recipient at Vanderbilt University.