Dillon Danis not lacking confidence heading into MMA debut

Al Sermeno/USA TODAY Sports

"I will own Bellator after this weekend."

That's 24-year-old Dillon Danis on social media this week, ahead of his professional MMA debut against Kyle Walker at Bellator 198 on Saturday. The two will meet in a 175-pound catchweight bout at Allstate Arena, just outside Chicago.

If you're unfamiliar with Danis coming into this week, that online comment, made days before he'll walk to a cage for the first time in his life, may seem arrogant -- and certainly out of line for someone with an 0-0 record.

But if you are familiar with the New York native, well then you know. This type of claim is nothing new for Dillon Danis.

"If [heavyweight] Fedor Emelianenko or Frank Mir had to pull out of Saturday's main event, for whatever reason, I swear to god I would take their place," Danis told ESPN. "I would jump in a day's notice.

"I'm not training for Kyle Walker, or anyone else. I'm training to be a world champion. I feel like I am the best in the world, at any weight. When you're this good, you don't feel pressure."

A decorated athlete in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Danis is already following in the footsteps of his famous friend and training partner, Conor McGregor, whom he began working with in 2016.

Danis' confidence and bravado is reminiscent of McGregor when he signed with the UFC in 2013. One difference, of course, is that McGregor had 14 fights under his belt at that point as well as two titles in Europe.

According to SBG Ireland head coach John Kavanagh, however, there are genuine similarities between Danis and McGregor beyond making grand promises on social media and in interviews. And they should serve Danis well, as they have McGregor.

"Dillon was one of many jiu-jitsu guys to message me and Conor about working with him," Kavanagh said. "I don't really know why Conor responded to him out of them all, but he did. So Dillon showed up.

"They like the same music and the same 'bling,' but they are both very competitive. They both have an encyclopedic knowledge of their arts. Name a fighter and Conor can probably tell you exactly how their last few fights went and also what type of gate they sold. Dillon is like this with BJJ, knowing every player's strengths and weaknesses."

For the moment, Danis intends to continue competing in BJJ, but he admits that probably won't last long. He wants to compete in the World IBJJF Championships next month but is willing to "slowly pull away from it" as his MMA career grows.

That career already has lofty expectations, which Danis created. Kavanagh, who's been through this before at the highest level, believes Danis has the skill to back up his words.

"Jiu-jitsu is almost pointless in MMA unless you have a good takedown, and Dillon has solid takedowns," Kavanagh said. "His striking is developing, but his ground is excellent. He's like a nasty mix of [Demian] Maia and [Rousimar] Palhares.

"He's created a media storm around him in the build-up. There's a lot of financial positives to that, but you have to perform on the night. I believe we've prepared as best as we could have. There's a serenity that comes with knowing you did everything."

Say this about Danis -- for someone who's never fought MMA before, he sure looks comfortable this week.

"To be honest, I'm the most popular Bellator fighter coming in right now, so give me a few fights, I'll be running this place," Danis said. "This is very enjoyable. I can see the path to being a world champion. It's right in front of me. I'm in a beautiful spot. I just have to go out and take it."