Gordon Ryan does not think much of what Dillon Danis has become.
Ryan is widely considered to be the best no-gi grappler in the world today and one of the greatest of all-time. Though only 27 years old, “King” Ryan has won the Abu Dhabi Combat Club World Championships five times, the IBJJF No-Gi World Championship three times, and a host of other major submission grappling championships.
Not that long ago, Ryan was a hotshot prospect making his way up the grappling ranks, much like Danis. In recent years, however, while Ryan climbed his way to the pinnacle of the sport, Danis instead pivoted toward a friendship with Conor McGregor, MMA, and now influencer boxing — a shift that made him the butt of a number of jokes and the disappointment of the grappling community.
“The thing about Dillon, Dillon is a master — an absolute master — at managing to stay relevant without actually doing anything combat related,” Ryan said on The MMA Hour. “I don’t know how he does it, but he does it, and props to him because — his family must have money, because he doesn’t do anything to generate revenue. He doesn’t have sponsors, if you look at his Instagram, he doesn’t teach, he doesn’t compete. I don’t know how he’s not homeless. He must have an inheritance or something. But he manages to stay relevant.
“He was pretty well-respected as a brown belt. He won a lot of things at brown belt, and then he was a big prospect at black belt. And then he had the falling out with Marcelo [Garcia], and then once he got in with McGregor, that’s when he started to fall apart. His popularity skyrocketed, but his career kind of fell apart from there.”
Ryan is no stranger to Danis. Apart from rising up the ranks at the same time, the two actually met in the opening round of the 2017 ADCC World Championship, where Ryan won a referee’s decision. That match, particularly given what Ryan went on to become, is often cited by Danis supporters as proof of his ability, but Ryan himself believes that isn’t a good way to assess Danis’ skills.
“It was my debut, it was his second ADCC, and he played a very tactical, cagey game and actually took me to a decision,” Ryan said. “I ended up winning a decision, and I’ve been trying to have a rematch with him ever since, but he won’t do it, of course. But he was pretty well-respected coming up through brown belt.
“What people don’t know about this is, everyone thinks he’s this badass, now I think they’re kind of starting to realize, but if you actually look at the statistics — and I’ve been dying to say this on a big podcast — Dillon Danis has a record in jiu-jitsu since black belt of 18 wins and 16 losses. He’s not nearly as good at jiu-jitsu as people think he is. Everyone just references the match with me. Yeah, that was five years ago. I wasn’t good either. But Dillon since black belt is 18-16. So, it’s not a great record since black belt.”
That 2017 ADCC event actually marks the last time Danis grappled professionally. Prior to the tournament, Danis signed a deal with Bellator. He made his MMA debut in 2018, winning by toehold. He fought once more, earning another submission victory in 2019, but has not returned to competition of any kind since. Instead, he has continued to make headlines for a series of public incidents and his brash behavior.
Now, Danis is set to move even further away from his grappling roots by boxing YouTuber KSI in January. When that is over, Ryan hopes to be able to lure his old foe back to the mats one more time, simply to prove a point to everyone who still brings up their ADCC match.
“I’ve offered him 10-to-1 odds, because he always makes these obscene bet matches,” Ryan said. “‘Oh, I’ll bet $1 million against that, blah, blah, blah.’ I was like, ‘Dillon, you can pick the number.’ And I did this for Felipe [Pena]. Felipe put up $10,000, I put up $100,000. And I told [Danis], ‘We can do a no time-limit match, you put up whatever number you want and I’ll put up 10 times that amount, we can put it in an escrow account and then we can grapple,’ and he just changes the subject or ignores it or whatever the case it.
“But now, between ADCC and [Joe] Rogan, and doing some things, and I keep winning, now my Instagram followers are almost big enough where he can actually publicly acknowledge me, where before he didn’t acknowledge me because if he did I would just get a lot of his followers. But now, I’m approaching 800,000, so I’m not too far off his count. Now I’m getting famous enough where he can actually acknowledge me, so maybe we can do a match eventually.”