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‘You don’t want to suppress egos’ - John Danaher opens up about DDS breakup

John Danaher gives his side of the story of the split of his infamous Danaher Death Squad.

John Danaher with a younger squad made up of Garry Tonon, Gordon Ryan, and Eddie Cummings.
John Danaher with a younger squad made up of Garry Tonon, Gordon Ryan, and Eddie Cummings.
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2021 marked the end of an era of submission grappling. After years of a dominant run, the infamous Danaher Death Squad composed of Garry Tonon, Eddie Cummings, Craig Jones, and the “King” Gordon Ryan, have gone their separate ways.

Head coach John Danaher later cited “a combination of factors” as a reason for their split, pointing out “physical conflicts” and “conflicting values,” along with the physical location of their future school outside of the blue basement of the Renzo Gracie Academy in NYC.

Recently, Danaher once again discussed the DDS split with Lex Fridman. Without naming names, he delved a little deeper into the potential issues. One of them being a “generational problem” between him and his younger students.

“It’s so easy to let a minute of anger destroy ten years of friendship. But there’s also the weight of those ten years. When I ran into the old squad members at the ADCC, we got along like a house on fire. It’s like we never had a problem,” he said.

“I still believe that in time, things will be fine. But there was an element where youngsters need to grow.

“There’s definitely a generational problem, I’m much older than my students. And the years and the viewpoint that I have is a reflection of the time in which I grew up. And they’re from a completely different generation from a completely different worldview.

“It’s gotta be hard from the athlete’s perspective when you’re training seven days a week, and you’re getting very, very good. You’re beating everyone that’s getting put in front of you. Everyone around you is calling you a superstar. And you look phenomenal. You check social media, everyone’s saying you’re a god on the mat.

“And you come into the gym and there’s some old guy telling you you’re not good enough. Every day, it’s like, ‘What does this guy want from me? How hard do I have to work?’ Like you’re not good enough.”

Danaher also opened up the discussion about ego, which he believes is a huge contributor to a competitor’s success, especially at the highest level.

“You don’t want to suppress egos. I always laugh when people say ‘leave your ego at the door.’ What do you think drives competition? If you want to be good at anything in life, you gotta have an ego.

“No, I think it’s good, or even a healthy thing to suppress egos. I’m a realist, and I understand that this is a sport where they make one gold medal per weight division.

“As guys get better, they’re gonna be looking at their training partners and thinking, like, ‘I’m gonna have to fight this guy one day.’ And they’re training next to each other. Of course, there’s gonna be tension.

“There’s always gonna be disagreements about what’s the right way to act around certain people, certain issues, and people are gonna come into conflict. Everyone’s being programmed to be an alpha competitor. You get a room full of people like that, there’s gonna be conflict.”

Danaher did mention in his 2021 Instagram post that he does see some form of collaboration between former squad members. And he still believes old wounds can heal through time.

“It was an emotional time for everyone. I had an element of tragedy in so far as not only was it a team break-up, it was also a family break-up, which was much more serious.

“I do believe that in time… even the most intense family break-ups can be reconciled. And I also believe that once the dialogue begins, people will remember just how easy it was for us to get along and how tight we were for many, many years.

“Is there a way to resolve this? Yes, there was. And for eight to nine years, I was very successful with it. But there’s also a tipping point where things can flare out of control, and there will be periodic break-ups.”

Gordon Ryan, who was one of DDS’ most prominent members, made history in the 2022 ADCC in September by becoming the first competitor to win a gold medal in three different weight classes. He also submitted fellow legend Andre Galvao in their superfight.