Interview: UFC Veteran Leo Kuntz Calls for Fight with Bellator’s Dillon Danis
By: Jesse Donathan
Leo “The Lion” Kuntz would like to get his paws on Bellator’s Dillon Danis and settle the score once and for all inside the mixed martial arts gladiatorial arena. A two-time UFC veteran who trains out of American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida, Kuntz is a former The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 16 cast member who isn’t intimidated one bit by the Bellator golden boy Danis, who is better known as UFC superstar Conor McGregor’s Brazilian Jiu-jitsu mentor. According to Kuntz (18-4-1, 9 KOs), Danis is ducking him but can’t run forever. “Dillon, or ‘El Jefa’ as I prefer to call him, personifies all of the negative qualities that are attributed to the great sport of mixed martial arts,” said Kuntz on the origins of his beef with Danis. According to Leo, “He is arrogant and has zero respect for anyone, unless they can better his career. He is exactly all of the bad things about our sport rolled up into one large worthless bag of flesh,” explained Kuntz on how he really feels about the Bellator signed fighter.
“Many years ago, Bellator had offered me two title fights against Ben Askren. I had to turn both fights down because I was already under contract,” said Kuntz. “I knew that Bellator had had some interest in me and a fight between me and ‘El Jefa’ was a real possibility. I then began calling him out on Twitter, this is a tactic he uses often. ‘El Jefa’ only calls out fighters who have no real chance of fighting him. Where I come from, we call these types of people telephone tough guys,” said Kuntz.
“It quickly became apparent to me that Dillon is in bed with Bellator and they don’t want to see him fight somebody like me,” Kuntz explained. “Scott Coker even made comments on Twitter about ‘El Jefa’ not just being a friend, but also his business partner,” said Kuntz. “After those remarks, I lost all respect for Scott Coker and his organization. I would however still fight for Bellator if it meant a fight with ‘El Jefa,’” the American Top Team representative added.
Switching gears, Kuntz is unfortunately perhaps best known for his now infamous fight against opponent Tae Hyun Bang at UFC Fight Night 79 in 2015, which stands today as the only known prosecuted case of fight fixing in the modern era of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. According to an April 19, 2017 MMAJunkie.com article titled, “UFC warned Tae Hyun Bang, Leo Kuntz about fight fixing; Bang investigated in South Korea,” author Steven Marrocco writes, “UFC officials warned Tae Hyun Bang and Leo Kuntz about fight fixing before they fought at UFC Fight Night 79, people with knowledge of the situation told MMAjunkie.”
According to the report, both fighters initially denied any knowledge of wrong doing, but later Bang, “Allegedly admitted to police his role in fight fixing after receiving death threats from organized crime figures, who’d wagered $2 billion Korean won (approximately $1.7 million USD) that Kuntz would win.”
“Police say Bang accepted a bribe of $100 million won (approximately $87,000) while wagering $50 million (approximately $43,000) on his opponent,” writes MMAJunkie.com. A November 24, 2017 follow up article titled, “Report: Tae Hyun Bang sentenced to 10-month prison term for fight-fixing scheme at UFC Fight Night 79,” indicates that Bang was found guilty of, “Taking bribes in connection with a plan to throw a fight.” Incredibly, according to the report, the “three brokers” who set up the fix and gave money to Bang totaling $92,160 USD also were given jail terms for their roles. One of those brokers was reportedly MMA fighter Dae Won Kim.” A fact which may or may not be an indication that fight fixing in mixed martial arts is more prevalent than anyone would like to admit or has previously been willing to address.
“If the top level athletes in MMA would be getting paid in proportion to the top level athletes in the NFL, NBA, MLB etc… this type of incident wouldn’t even be considered,” said Kuntz on his infamous UFC Fight Night 79 split decision loss to Tae Hyun Bang who was later convicted and sent to prison. According to a November 24, 2019 MMAMania.com article titled, “Report: Tae Hyun Bang lands 10-month prison sentence for accepting bribes in attempt to fix UFC fight,” author Dan Hiergesell writes that, “Bang, 34, was given $92,160 USD by a collection of three brokers and was expected to lose the first two rounds to Kuntz.”
Interestingly, the report went on to state, “But after Bang bet half of that money on Kuntz to win, the betting lines drastically switched, forcing UFC officials to warn both Bang and Kuntz of the ramifications of fixing fights.” This is information, that if true, would seem to suggest that the UFC has actively monitored betting lines for sometime now, long before the expected launch of their official sports betting product known as UFC Event Centre in the first quarter of 2020 according to a November 15, 2019 Sherdog.com report.
According to Kuntz, who claims to have had no prior knowledge or involvement of any kind in the fight fixing scandal or any of the individuals involved, “I first became aware of the issue moments before my fight with Tae Hyun Bang. I was in the locker room getting my hands wrapped when UFC brass came and spoke to me about the betting line swinging overnight. I had no idea what this meant at the time,” explained Kuntz. “The UFC went to speak with Bang after they spoke to me and I’m certain that conversation was of a different nature. They knew that the bets had come in on me to win. It’s sad that athletes at our level would even consider throwing a fight for money,” said Kuntz.
“As far as my career goes,” said Kuntz after being asked how the incident has affected him professionally, “I think this incident actually helped me. It is always a topic of conversation and I’ve had several interviews based solely on the fight fixing scandal.”
More recently, Kuntz, a professional MMA fighter with a traditional martial arts background, had a successful exhibition boxing match in an October 12, 2019 Bozeman, Montana fight against another mixed martial arts fighter with a reported 5-1 semi-pro record. “I’m at a point in my career where I am finally able to train full time,” said Kuntz. “Except for my recent boxing exhibition, I haven’t fought in over 2 years. My last 4 fights have been at 155. During my time as a lightweight, I’ve only won 1 out of 4 fights! As a welterweight I am 17-1-1. I will be permanently moving back up to welterweight and I will be competing in MMA in the end of January,” revealed the traditional Chinese martial artist.
A student of the late Grand Master Wei Lun Huang, Kuntz is a Chinese kung fu master who has studied extensively in Taiji and other Chinese internal martial arts. On the influence kung fu has had in his training as a mixed marital artist, according to Kuntz, “Taiji’s power is like water, ever changing and adopting to its environment. Water is one of the softest substance’s on earth and it can still be harnessed to etch stone and steel. Water can carve through mountains and destroy entire cities, yet it is a requirement for nearly every known source of life on earth,” said Kuntz. “GM Wei Lun Huang has shown me how to be like water. This is a path you walk for a lifetime, knowing that you will never reach the end,” explained Kuntz with a heavy dose of Asian martial philosophy and spiritual dogma to his overall worldview.
On what the future holds for the American Top Team trained mixed martial artist, “I am still interested in boxing and will certainly be making my pro boxing debut in 2020,” said Kuntz who is no doubt looking for financially lucrative opportunities. “As a prize fighter, I am interested in any fight that makes dollars and sense.
“I don’t see myself getting involved in bare knuckle boxing though, unless I’m getting paid stupid money,” explained Kuntz upon being asked if the recent trend in MMA fighters transitioning to bare knuckle boxing would be something that he would be interested in pursuing. According to Kuntz, “Martial arts is about self-preservation and bare-knuckle boxing creates an environment that isn’t sustainable for the athletes. I would be more interested in bare knuckle MMA,” in what is an idea quite a few people would be willing to get behind and support.
“My stock is going up,” said Kuntz. “If Dana White wants to give me another chance, it’s best for him to reach out to me quickly. Once I start making waves at welterweight, I won’t be signing with any large promotion if they want to try and give me an entry level contract,” said Kuntz in what is no doubt the mark of a business savvy, experienced professional who has been around the block a few times already.
As a two-time UFC veteran and TUF season 16 cast member sporting an 18-4 overall professional record with an impressive 9 stoppages to his credit, “The Lion” Kuntz is a primed, unsigned big-league talent looking to take advantage of the current professional boxing/MMA crossover market. With the looming entry of Zuffa Boxing into the world of professional pugilism, fighters like Kuntz with previous experience fighting under the Zuffa banner and a desire to follow the money into the ranks of professional boxing are perfect potential free agent acquisitions primed for the taking as Zuffa attempts to make its mark in the squared circle. But in the meantime, Kuntz appears perfectly content with finding himself inside the Bellator cage opposite Dillon Danis where the score can be settled once and for all.