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MMA debuts are rarely the subject of worldwide anticipation and rarely do they go as well as Dillon Danis’.
For all the talking he’d done prior to stepping into an MMA cage, under the bright lights of the Bellator stage on Saturday night, Danis backed it up. As promised, he took out his opponent in one round.
Danis submitted Kyle Walker via toehold in just 98 seconds at Bellator 198 at the Allstate Arena in Rosemount, Illinois.
Walker, who was 2-4 prior to the bout, had lost his previous two fights by submission in under two minutes. While a match up seemingly cherry-picked for Danis, you can hardly be surprised, or critical of the choice for a guy with an 0-0 record.
Danis, 24, is already an accomplished Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt having won a number of IBJJF championships. However, “El Jefe” became known to most in the MMA world through his affiliation with Conor McGregor. McGregor recruited Danis to help him train for his second fight with Nate Diaz, but the two have since become close friends. Earlier this month, Danis even paid McGregor’s $50,000 bail after his arrest in New York.
Danis shares McGregor’s proclivity for self-promotion, and that, along with his credentials in jiu jitsu made him a massive curiosity leading into Bellator 198. While his overall performance was largely received positively, critics were quick to point out deficiencies in his striking and defence. Though at just 24, Danis has the time to hone those skills and potential to become a legitimate contender, provided his career is managed prudently.
After the fight, Danis spoke with commentator John McCarthy about his elite jiu jitsu skills which earned him the victory.
“I said this before I came in – no one has ever experienced submissions like this in MMA,” Danis said. “I’m too good. This is another level.
“I gave you guys a free seminar on how to defeat MMA with jiu jitsu.”
In an interview backstage, Danis called out retired ONE champion and former Bellator champion Ben Askren. He later clarified why the match up interested him in the post-fight press conference.
“I believe I’m the one to derail his undefeated streak,” said Danis. “He would not be able to handle me on the ground and he has no striking, so it would end up in the ground and I feel like I would submit him easy.”
Danis also spoke of “legend” Royce Gracie who was in attendance and offered him some words of praise.
“He said that - you kept your composure. He said, ‘A lot of people think jiu jitsu doesn’t work nowadays and it does.’”
Words appropriately validated by what turned out to be a jiu jitsu showcase. Four of five bouts on the main card of Bellator 198 ended via submission, along with three bouts on the preliminary card.
It was only fitting that the rise of Danis as a new prospect was followed by a nod to the past. In the main event, Fedor Emelianenko, considered by many the greatest heavyweight of all time, knocked out former UFC champion Frank Mir.