Bellator bantamweight champion Eduardo “Dudu” Dantas (19-4) will face Leandro Higo (17-2) in the main event of tomorrow’s Bellator 177. The fight was supposed to be a five-round title fight, with Higo challenging for Dantas’s belt. Unfortunately, Higo missed weight by four pounds this morning, so instead the fight will be at a non-title catchweight bout, reduced to three rounds. Bellator 177 is being held in Budapest, Hungary, so due to the difference in time zones, Spike TV will air the event on tape delay here in the United States, with coverage starting at 9 PM ET.
Dantas has been fighting for Bellator since 2011, so sometimes it’s easy to forget that the two-time bantamweight champ is still a young fighter at just twenty-eight years old. Part of that is that he’s been fighting as a pro for ten years, starting at the age of eighteen. “My background was just jiu-jitsu,” Dantas says, “and in my first fight, I think ‘I need to put this guy on the ground,’ but once the fight started, I started punching him and kicking him, and then knocked him on the ground. But my background was as a jiu jitsu fighter.”
Another reason to forget his youth is that Dantas has been fighting top competition for a long time. After his initial fight he quickly advanced up the ranks, fighting increasingly tough competition while many of his contemporaries were still amateurs or in the lower reaches of the pro ranks. In fact, Dantas won the Shooto South America 132-pound title in his seventh fight, just eighteen months after entering the sport. He explains this rapid progression as being the result of a strong desire to fight. “I accepted any fight I could get,” says Dantas, “ and went fast and won the Shooto Brazil title so fast, because I told my coach, ‘Hey, I need to fight. Put me in with anybody to fight.’ I was very hungry, and I wanted to move up fast, to be a champion.”
Within four years of his first fight, he landed with Bellator, winning the Season 5 bantamweight tournament. This earned him an April 2012 shot at then-champion Zach Makovsky. Dantas looks back fondly at the old tournament format, stating, “I think I like the tournaments more, because I think it’s more fair. The guy who won the tournament goes for the title. So I think I like more the tournaments, so everybody knows who is the best one.” That’s easy to understand, given that he won the tournament and then beat Makovsky to take the belt – exactly five years ago today – at the age of just twenty-three.
Dantas Squares off with Higo at the Weigh-Ins
Dantas defended the championship twice before losing it to Joe Warren in October 2014. Since then he has regained the title by beating Marcos Galvao in June 2016, and then avenged his loss to Joe Warren last December. Tomorrow’s fight was initially scheduled against top prospect Darrion Caldwell, but Caldwell was injured last month, so Bellator brought in LFA bantamweight champ Leandro Higo to replace him. Dantas still hopes to meet Caldwell once he’s healthy, though, saying, “I think after I beat Leandro Higo, I want to fight Caldwell on June 24th in New York.”
He has aspirations beyond just continuing to defend his 135-pound title, though. He also wants to move up to featherweight for a shot at that belt, provided Bellator sets it up as a superfight between two champions rather than requiring him to fight a 145-pound contender first. “If Bellator gives me the chance to fight directly for the title, whether it’s Daniel Straus or another champion, of course I will go directly for the title. And then I would be here as champion in two different divisions,” says Dantas.
For now, he has to contend with Leandro Higo tomorrow. Although Higo was a moderately late replacement, Dantas doesn’t see this as a problem. As for adjusting his training after Caldwell had to pull out of their scheduled fight, he says, “I changed a little for Higo. With Caldwell, of course he would try to put me on the ground, but Leandro Higo is better standing, and he’s a better jiu-jitsu guy. I trained before on my wrestling, and then trained on my standup and jiu-jitsu once the fight was changed.”
Dudu is confident he will win tomorrow. “I think Leandro Higo has good skills, and I need to be careful with him standing and on the ground, because he is a complete fighter,” he explains, “But I’m a complete fighter, too, and I think I am much better than him everywhere. It doesn’t matter for me. Standing or on the ground, I figure I will be better standing and better on the ground.”
With plans to keep defending his bantamweight title, and then get a second Bellator belt at featherweight, Eduardo Dantas has lofty aspirations. On his future, he says that he wants “to have everyone say I am the best. It doesn’t matter if it is in Bellator or in another show, but to have everybody look at me and say ‘Eduardo Dantas is the best guy in the world.’ That’s my goal.”