2023 Male Grappler of the Year: Pound-for-pound standout Dante Leon

Dante Leon found success beyond his weight class and against elite opponents to become the 2023 Male Grappler of the Year.

Already a well-established elite black belt competitor, Dante Leon enjoyed his best year yet in 2023, submitting a number of top opponents across a range of weight classes and rulesets.

Considering his level of opposition and impressive submission rate, the 28-year-old Pedigo Submission Fighting representative stands out among the rest as the top male grappler of 2023.

Dante Leon in 2023

Leon started his year competing in some smaller tournaments, including a Grappling Industries event at which he suffered his first of two defeats in 2023, dropping a narrow decision against multiple-time heavyweight no-gi world champion Roberto “Cyborg” Abreu.

After that, he would go on an impressive run of dominance under a variety of rulesets. He submitted no-gi world champion Jeferson Guaresi at a Twisted Church event, submitted ADCC veteran Ruan Alvarenga at Who’s Number One (WNO), and earned a decision over 10th Planet standout PJ Barch.

Next, in August, Leon picked up one of his marquee wins when he submitted perennial top competitor Ethan Crelinsten with a rear-naked choke to claim the vacant WNO lightweight title. 

Shortly after that, he traveled to Kazakhstan where he earned two more submission wins at the AIGA Champion’s League, including a rear-naked choke over ADCC veteran Kenta Iwamoto.

Leon then returned to the U.S. to compete at the IBJJF No-Gi Pans in the super-heavy division, giving up over 20 pounds in size to his opposition. It was his stellar performance at that tournament that sealed his status as the pound-for-pound king in 2023.

While he would lose a close match against Luccas Lira in the opening round of the absolute division, Leon stormed back in his weight division to not only avenge that loss but also defeat 2021 no-gi world champion Devhonte Johnson to claim gold.

Leon closed out his 2023 with five consecutive submission wins, including a triangle choke on reigning gi world champion Johnatha Alves.

Even though other standout grapplers found success in both gi and no-gi competition, or competed at more IBJJF tournaments, none matched Leon’s pound-for-pound work or his amount of submission wins against top-flight opponents.

2023 Male Grappler of the Year honorable mentions

Nicholas Meregali: Undefeated in 2023 while competing in both gi and no-gi, and with wins over elite talent like Kaynan Duarte and Erich Munis, Meregali looks to be the sport’s top heavyweight.

Diego “Pato” Oliveira: The Art of Jiu-Jitsu representative won both gi and no-gi Worlds and defeated reigning ADCC champion Diogo Reis to turn in another sensational year.

Victor Hugo: Hugo’s standout performance came at the IBJJF Worlds where he won by submission in the final of both the ultra-heavy and absolute divisions to claim double gold.

Junny Ocasio: The Unity Jiu-Jitsu representative enjoyed a breakout year, winning gold in the light-feather division at the IBJJF No-Gi Pans, Euros, and Worlds.

Mica Galvao: The young phenom competed extensively in both the gi and no-gi, losing just one time while collecting the WNO welterweight title.

Ben Coate

Ben has been involved with grappling, whether through wrestling or Brazilian jiu-jitsu, essentially his entire life. After wrestling throughout his childhood, Ben found Brazilian jiu-jitsu as a young adult and quickly fell in love. He has been training for over ten years and currently holds the rank of brown belt, and remains involved in both the MMA and BJJ scene. Ben has been writing about combat sports since 2017. He has interviewed and profiled some of MMA's biggest stars, including multiple UFC champions.

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