‘I truly believe I’m better than he is’ – Dante Leon breaks down title match against Diego ‘Pato’ Oliveira

WNO lightweight champion Dante Leon spoke to Grappling Insider in detail about his upcoming title defense against Diego “Pato” Oliveira.

Fresh off a sensational year of competition that saw him winning Grappling Insider’s 2023 Male Grappler of the Year, Dante Leon is kicking off his 2024 against one of the world’s top pound-for-pound competitors.

On Friday, February 9, the Daisy Fresh representative will put his Who’s Number One (WNO) lightweight title on the line against WNO featherweight champion Diego “Pato” Oliveira, live from Costa Mesa, California at WNO 22: Rodriguez vs. Hugo.

Leon recently sat down with Grappling Insider to break down this much-anticipated matchup. Check out the full interview below.

Leon recognizes that Oliveira – a 2023 IBJJF gi and no-gi world champion – possesses an aggressive, submission-hunting style that suits the WNO submission-only rule set:

“Pato has a pretty unique game. It’s very sub-only oriented, he attacks a lot of submissions, so preparing for somebody like him is a lot different than preparing for a lot of other guys in the division because he’s much more aggressive, I would say, with his attacks.”

While Pato is perhaps best recognized for his dangerous leg lock game, Leon sees him as a well-rounded grappler capable of attacking equally well from the top position as his back. 

One particular skill that stands out, he says, is Pato’s ability to retain guard:

“He kind of does everything well. He’s a good grappler. It’s kind of hard to really pick out an area that I think he’s known for… He obviously has a very tough guard. He obviously has a lot of strength as well as dexterity to be able to retain guard against bigger guys. I think the best thing about Pato, honestly, everybody talks about his leg locks, things like that, he is a very good leg locker. I think the best thing about him is his ability to retain guard, his ability to fend off guard passes.”

For his part, Leon is an equally well-rounded competitor. However, when the two clash on February 9, most fans expect to see Leon working from the top position while the Brazilian attacks from his guard.

Leon admits that achieving the guard pass will be no easy task, and points out that Pato’s smaller stature can make passing even more difficult:

“Passing his guard is no different than passing anybody else’s guard. I think it’s just a little more challenging. He’s probably more flexible. He probably has really strong legs. He has really short legs… He’s a lot shorter than the majority of people I’ve competed against. It’s not easier for him to retain guard but he doesn’t really need a lot of space. I don’t think passing his guard is going to be something other-worldly.”

Ultimately, Leon is coming into his first WNO title defense confident he’s the superior grappler. 

While some might confuse that confidence with trash talk, Leon disagrees. He recognizes that, in all likelihood, Pato holds the same belief.

He added:

“To be honest, I just think I’m better than he is everywhere. I know he has his problems and I don’t think it’s necessarily something to say anything full of it, but I think he probably thinks the same thing too. There would be no reason he would move up to 155 and try to challenge me for the title if he just fully believed in his heart that I was better than he was. There would be no point in that. That’s probably not something he stands for.

“I truly believe I’m better than he is. I truly believe that I can put pressure and pace and technique on him that he hasn’t felt maybe ever. And definitely not for a really long time. He’s been competing against some good guys but some guys who have a very different game and a very different approach to matches than I do.”

How to watch: Dante Leon vs. Diego “Pato” Oliveira takes place on Friday, February 9, at WNO: Rodriguez vs. Hugo and will air live on FloGrappling (subscription required) beginning at 9:00 PM ET.

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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