Danaher Death Squad

If you follow competitive BJJ, particularly No Gi submission only competitions such as ADCC, you have undoubtedly heard of the so-called Danaher Death Squad, also known as DDS.

The DDS, led by legendary BJJ coach John Danaher, was composed of top names such as Gordon Ryan, Nicky Ryan, Nicky Rodriguez, Gary Tonon, Craig Jones, and Eddie Cummings, with some of these names being original DDS members and others more recent additions to the team.

Recently, John Danaher announced on Instagram that the famed Danaher Death Squad was splitting up due to “a combination of factors revolving around disagreements in physical location of a future school, personality conflicts, conflicting values and an inevitable tension between brand and the growing individual brands of members…”

Without more specifics, we can only speculate as to the exact circumstances of this breakup.

In this article, we will break down a brief history of the DDS and go over what we know as of today regarding the breakup.

A brief history of DDS

The Danaher Death Squad essentially began when Eddie Cummings joined John Danaher’s gym at the Renzo Gracie Academy in New York in 2011.

The next additions to the team were Gary Tonon and Gordon Ryan. The team became known for Danaher’s controlled but aggressive style, and Ryan in particular had incredible success, winning virtually every competition throughout the 2012-2019 era.

Another standup member of the team was Nicky Rodriguez, who in less than a year went from white belt to purple belt, having defeated multiple black belts in 2019 ADCC, earning him a silver medal and the moniker “The Black Belt Slayer.”

Recently, the team has expanded to the point where keeping track of all members is difficult. Overall, the DDS team is known for their intricate leg lock game, pioneered by John Danaher.

In November 2020, Danaher announced the DDS would be moving their headquarters to Puerto Rico, ostensibly to avoid COVID lockdowns and for tax haven benefits.

Where are the DDS members going?

With the recent announcement of the DDS breakup, it’s unclear exactly where all competitors will end up, but we do have a few clues based on Instagram posts from top members.

Craig Jones, the famed Australian grappler, announced on Instagram that he will be staying together with the so-called ‘B-team,’ which includes Nicky Ryan, Nicky Rodriguez, and Ethan Crelinsten. It is unclear where the team plans to train, however the post is tagged as being from Austin Texas.

Gordon Ryan announced that he will be opening an academy in Austin Texas “with those who are deciding to stay with me.”

A more recent post from Gordon Ryan appears to show that John Danaher himself alongside Gary Tonon will join Gordon Ryan in Austin Texas to open the “New Wave Jiu Jitsu” gym.

It is likely that as things unfold among this elite crew of grapplers that we will hear more announcements about who will be joining who, which has serious implications for the future of elite submission only grappling.

Why did DDS break up?

Without further confirmation, we can only speculate as to why the Danaher Death Squad split up. 

Based on Danaher’s post, we can assume that there were conflicts on multiple levels between the members. Whether these were malicious interpersonal conflicts, simply logistical, or both, we just do not know.

It’s safe to assume that as these grapplers continue clawing their way to the top of the food chain, or continue to be the kings of the hill, interpersonal conflict is inevitable.

Furthermore, we can assume from Danaher’s post that a combination of business, logistical, and interpersonal issues are likely to blame for the DDS breakup.

Regardless of the reasons, we can expect to see the former DDS competitors continue dominating the elite grappling scene.

Who knows, maybe we will see them contest one another for the next ADCC gold.

July 30, 2021