One of the most exciting people to watch at the American Nationals was a 16-year-old blue belt from Canada who competed in the Gi leg of the tournament as an adult. Dante Leon of Ribeiro JJ traveled all the way to Dominguez Hills, California, from Toronto, Canada, to compete, and didn’t disappoint.
In his featherweight division, Dante had four matches. He won the first three by submission and then lost in the final to Matthew Fox of BJJ Revolution. Having come in second in his division, Dante was none too pleased. “I got armbarred,” he says stoically, explaining how he lost to Matthew, “I made a small mistake and he was good enough to capitalize on it. I will be going back to the gym to make sure I don’t do that again.”
The serious and mature 16-year-old, who would appear many years older than he is if it weren’t for his bright blue eyes and baby face, then signed up for the open class, determined to turn his day around. He had another three matches in the absolute, winning the first on points and submitting his second opponent with a footlock.
In his third and final match, Dante came up against Mike Quintero, an ultra heavyweight from BJJ Revolution. Dante, who is a 5’ 8,” 150-pound juvenile – about 6 inches shorter than his stalwart opponent and somewhere in the range of 70 pounds lighter –, took on his adult opponent with gusto, completely unaffected by Mike’s looming presence.
Dante pulled guard and tried to play his game with the big man. “I looked for an attack,” Dante says, “But he was really strong and really good. I felt like I controlled the pace the whole fight. I feel that way in every fight.” Dante scored some advantages on Mike and won the final, taking home that gold he was so bent on winning on Sunday.
As Dante confidently walked to the podium to receive his gold medal, teammates and fans alike approached the juvenile who appeared like a David slaying Goliath, giving him high fives, knuckle bumps and congratulations on his remarkable feat.
Dante has been training Jiu-Jitsu since he was 12 years old. It’s not easy for him to get to Jiu-Jitsu class. He trains in Detroit, Michigan, so he has to cross the border from Canada to the US every day to get back and forth to and from class. But he doesn’t care and no one pushes him to do it. Jiu-Jitsu is his passion and he loves it. He’s completely dedicated to the gentle art. “It’s my life,” he says, “I do it because I love it more than anything. I can’t explain it. It’s my complete passion.”
One of the main things he loves about Jiu-Jitsu is the fact that it’s just about him and the sport. “Getting your hand raised or not,” he says, “It’s all on you. I want to do Jiu-Jitsu for my whole life. I want to compete and win as much as I can.”
For being so young, Dante definitely has a handle on his maturity and his philosophical knowledge of the gentle art. “I have a lot of moves that I really like in Jiu-Jitsu,” he says, “But my favorite move is the one that my opponent gives me.” Spoken like a true veteran of the sport.
Dante won gold at both the 2011 Pan and the 2011 Worlds as a juvenile. He has now officially decided that he will only compete at the adult level, regardless of his age. “I compete at the adult level because it’s more challenging,” he says, “From now on I will not compete as a juvenile. I will only compete at the adult level.”
Dante would like to thank his coaches Chris Blanke, Danny Agemy and John Walus, his training partners, and his family for their support. “I couldn’t do this without them.”