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Daniel Gil on Iron Grip’s gritty fight to the finish

There’s no way to prepare when you’re facing the unknown.

Eddy Chen/USA Network

On American Ninja Warrior: Ninja vs Ninja, there are a few competitors who are simply considered a safe bet. They’re able to combine speed, skills and a level head to pull out the win in most situations. One of those Ninjas is Daniel Gil. His incredible success on American Ninja Warrior has transferred seamlessly to the side-by-side format as the captain of team Iron Grip.

As we saw on the seventh episode of Ninja vs Ninja qualifiers, Daniel certainly isn’t alone on the team when it comes to abilities. The young Ninja Mathis Owhadi blew viewers away with his speed. Tiana Webberley stormed the obstacles fearlessly during her heats.

But adding all those skills together did not clear a smooth path to the playoffs for team Iron Grip. In one of the most thrilling episodes so far this season, Daniel, Mathis and Tiana had to fight tooth and nail against the InvinceAbels and the Lizard Kings. In the third round, they were on the verge of a knockout before Daniel scored a point. Then, the three Ninjas had to band together to pull out two relay wins back to back.

You can read a full recap of the episode here.

We caught up with Daniel after the episode to review how the team was feeling during the highs and lows of the exhilarating night.

What made you bring in newcomer Mathis Owhadi for this version of team Iron Grip?

DG: I have known Mathis (aka Kid) for many years. He has been training for American Ninja Warrior longer than I have. He’s one of the most dedicated and talented ninjas that I have trained with and I knew he would do an incredible job on Ninja vs. Ninja. I had to have him on my team!

Why did you want Tiana Webberley on your team?

DG: Tiana is one of the strongest female competitors on American Ninja Warrior. I’ve known her since Season 7 of ANW and as soon as I heard she was available for Ninja vs. Ninja, I knew she would make a great teammate and addition to Team Iron Grip!

Eddy Chen/USA Network

Your first match-up was against the InvincAbels. What were your thoughts on that team?

DG: I knew that going up against the InvincAbels would be difficult. I’ve known Abel, Victor and Mary Beth for years and have seen firsthand that they’re all fast and strong! Abel and Victor are both from Texas so we have all been in many local competitions together. Even though I knew they would be hard to beat, I was still confident that my team could come out on top. That’s why I chose T and Kid.

Before your heat with Abel, Tiana took a fall from the Ring Toss. How does seeing something unexpected like that affect your mindset before a race?

DG: It’s always hard to see a teammate hit the water in competition. In this competition, we rise and fall together. But I never lost confidence in my team. I knew that we could still come out on top.

In the third round, Iron Grip faced the Lizard Kings. They had a team of relatively new competitors. What were your thoughts as you watched their heats against the Expendabulls?

DG: My thoughts were “I do NOT want to go against those guys!” I knew nothing about any of them and didn’t know what they were capable of.

Mathis, who is so fast, may have lost his heat against Hunter Guerard when he stopped to wipe his feet before the final climb. Do you, as the captain, recommend caution over risks?

DG: I usually always err on the side of caution because in this sport, to quote Tiana, “smooth is fast”. Kid told me that he planned on wiping his shoes and I gave the go ahead but neither of us knew that Hunter would be moving that fast and could get through the final climb so quickly. Again, when you know nothing about your opponent it’s hard to make judgement calls like that.

Eddy Chen/USA Network

Your individual race against Kyle Soderman was an epic back and forth. Was there ever a point where you felt like you had the win? Or a point where you felt like you might lose?

DG: Not going to lie, I was nervous going against Kyle. He’d already proven that he was super fast in his race against Kevin Bull. On top of that he’s a lot bigger and heavier than I am so I didn’t ever want to be on the same obstacle as him. I knew I had to play it safe on certain obstacles and then gas it on the back half where I felt more comfortable.

In the first relay, the Lizard Kings suffered falls on every leg of their race. Do you think the pressure of your team got to them?

DG: I think everybody was feeling a lot of fatigue and pressure at that point. Lizard Kings because they wanted to make playoffs, and Iron Grip because we couldn’t lose this race! We all react differently to pressure and I knew I could trust my team to stay calm. Again to quote Tiana, “smooth is fast.” I don’t know exactly what was going on in Lizard King’s minds but I know that in this competition, it’s very easy to fall when going as fast as you can.

To make it to the playoffs, Iron Grip had to pull off three wins in a row on the extended course. How were you physically feeling after that? It was exhausting just watching!

DG: My team was exhausted!! To run that many times back to back will take a serious toll on even the most conditioned athletes. But thankfully that’s how my team has been training for this competition so we just had to stay calm and do what we practiced.

Do hard-fought wins like that feel differently than something like a sweep?

DG: Hard-fought wins are way more satisfying than a sweep because of how difficult they are in the moment. You find out what you’re made of when you’re one race away from going home. How you’re able to handle the situation can say a lot about you. Hard-fought wins are also very humbling because we literally almost lost. Iron Grip didn’t dominate the Lizard Kings. It was a tough match up against a strong team.

Describe team Iron Grip in one sentence.

DG: Iron Grip is a formidable team that is reaching for total victory on this season of Ninja vs. Ninja!

Will Iron Grip make Daniel’s prediction come true? They’ll return to Ninja vs Ninja in a few weeks for the playoffs!