How many 0–0 fighters did YOU ever really care about when they stepped into the cage to make their pro debut?
CM Punk garnered a truckload of interest as the pro wrestling community and the MMA fanbase joined forces to watch his demolition at the hands of Mickey Gall at UFC 203 last September.
Six years earlier we saw a similar crossing of the codes as former multi-weight world boxing champion James ‘Lights Out’ Toney was manhandled by UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture at UFC 118.
And one year later the now-defunct EliteXC cage was the centre of the MMA universe as the world tuned in for the much-anticipated debut of the street fighter-turned internet sensation Kimbo Slice, who battered Bo Cantrell in double-quick time in Corpus Christi, Texas.
Each fighter brought out-of-the-ordinary stories to the cage for their debuts. The pro wrestler who wanted to compete for real. The boxer who thought he could easily take down an MMA great. And a former street fighter looking to put his heavy hands to good use in a more controlled environment.
And the next 0–0 fighter to pick up any sort of traction has a story of his own to tell.
That man is Dillon Danis, and if you’re a regular follower of the MMA news cycle the 23-year-old has probably already elicited a response from you in some shape or form.
After signing for Bellator MMA, he declared that he was the highest-paid fighter on the promotion’s roster, then suggested the upcoming pay-per-view show at Madison Square Garden wouldn’t sell “unless I’m on it”.
Big words from a man who has never set foot in the cage for a professional mixed martial arts fight.
He hasn’t looked far for his inspiration. He’s helped Conor McGregor work on his grappling game in the lead-up to his last few contests, and clearly some of that ‘Mac Magic’ has rubbed off, just as it seems to have done with his younger teammate — and another Bellator prospect — James Gallagher.
“At the end of the day, I say what I want, I do what I want,”
— Dillon Danis
The soundbytes, the quotes, even the delivery seem strikingly familiar. It’s led to criticism, with some fans calling Danis unoriginal and labelling him a McGregor clone.
But if he is playing cover versions of Conor’s Greatest Hits, it seems he’s generating a similar, albeit smaller-scale, response.
I understand Danis’ recent utterings have seen him appearing prominently on the analytics charts of key MMA sites, while social media reaction to his recent appearance on The MMA Hour suggests he doesn’t need to worry about too many people asking ‘Dillon Who?’ when he eventually makes his debut.
He may not be ‘The Notorious’, but his comparable approach has certainly brought him more notoriety than the majority of MMA debutants. Not bad for a man who hasn’t even thrown a punch in anger yet.
And while the wailing and gnashing of teeth can be heard from the depths of your Twitter timeline all the way up to Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler, the inescapable truth is Danis has already won. He’s won your attention.
And in this sport attention, served up with a fair portion of technical ability, can take you a long way. Just how far will depend on how he performs with those four-ounce gloves.
He might not have made the same splash as CM Punk, Toney or Kimbo, but there’s no doubt that Danis is now on the radar. Now it’s up to him to deliver.
And whether you’re willing him on to success or failure, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll be watching when he makes his debut.