Known as “The Lion Killer”, Garry Tonon is renowned as one of the most deadly grapplers in the world.
But now, the American is making the switch from the mats to the cage as he makes his martial arts debut for ONE Championship at ONE: IRON WILL on Saturday, 24 March in Bangkok, Thailand.
ONE Championship caught up with Tonon to learn more about his mindset ahead of his debut bout against Richard “Notorious” Corminal.
Tonon’s first taste of ONE Championship came when he stepped into the cage to take on former ONE Lightweight World Champion Shinya Aoki in a Grappling Super-Match. It was an experience that gave him his first glimpse of what life might be like as a ONE martial artist.
“It was pretty exciting,” he said.
“As far as shows are concerned, professional grappling has built up a lot of steam. Things are getting more and more professional, and the [shows] are getting bigger and bigger, but that was a much more international-level event with a lot more people watching. It was a bigger [show] than any show I have ever competed in before.
“I got an opportunity through that Grappling Super-Match to meet some of the people [at ONE Championship] that are running the organisation, and it gave me a better feel for how they treat their athletes and their production.”
Tonon was one of the biggest draws on the grappling stage, making appearances across a host of competitions and promotions, including Polaris and Eddie Bravo Invitational, but the lure of the cage proved too much to resist, as he revealed he’d been considering the switch for some time.
“I have been looking to get into it for a while. I just was not 100 percent sure when it would happen,” he said.
“I knew after two or three years of grappling that it was something I was interested in getting involved in, but I always wanted to have a good handle on what I was doing with Brazilian jiu-jitsu first.
“When I say good handle, my definition is a little different than most people, because I am a perfectionist when it comes to most things. When it comes to martial arts, I do not really accept mediocrity, so I wanted to get really good at grappling before I made the move.”
Competing in the cage will mean Tonon will have to use a host of new skills, even in his grappling, where the use of the cage offers a new dimension to his mat skills. His grappling will also have to be more overtly dominant and progressive to ensure he’s allowed to maintain his position by the referee.
“The tough thing about grappling in the cage is you either need to be able to use grappling to control people and do damage, or you have to be able to grapple people effectively enough to submit them,” he said.
“If you cannot do either one of those things, your grappling is not going to be very effective.
“If you look at a situation where somebody is a particularly good grappler, but cannot submit an opponent, or do damage on the ground — even if he spent four minutes controlling the guy with jiu-jitsu – and then you get back to the feet and he punches you in the face, he has done damage, and you have done none. So if you cannot be effective on the ground, then it is a very tough task.”
Training alongside legendary coaches Renzo Gracie and John Danaher, Tonon will certainly be well prepared when he steps into the cage to face Corminal on Saturday, 24 March. The team has also worked extensively with martial arts stars Georges St-Pierre and Jake Shields, and Tonon says he’s confident they’ll have him well drilled ahead of his ONE debut.
“John always had a working relationship with Georges [St-Pierre], and I got to see those guys throughout my years in grappling. So I saw those guys competing and working at our school, and got a feel for their style and what they liked.
“Jake [Shields] was kind of a late addition to our team within the last year. It was pretty fortunate because now I have somebody who has been in the game for a really long time, and I can spar with him, and [he can] give me advice. He trains full-time with us now that he moved to New York.
“It has been pretty cool to have all those different training partners come through New York, plus having John, who studies so many different elements of the game. He has a good handle on all the things in this sport. I think John is well-known for his grappling, but overall he has a good handle on a lot of different skills, and how to integrate them into grappling.”
He’s already accomplished virtually everything you could wish to achieve in grappling. And now, on the verge of his ONE debut, Tonon has a new set of career goals to aim for.
“What I am really preparing for in this training camp is five years from now,” he said.
“That is much more important to me than the first bout that is ahead of me. That is kind of where my mind is at.
“Do I plan to make a 15-year career? No, I do not. It is not something that I am going to stick around just based on wins and losses. I am not going to stick around for 15 years if my career is not going the right way. I see maybe five to 10 years ahead of me.
“In terms of what I will be able to do in those five to 10 years, I do not know. 10 years was how long I had in my grappling career, and that is how long I felt it took me to get to the elite level there. In my opinion, in our sport, some of the best guys, their ages are around mid-30s. So for me, at age 26, having a 10-year career, that is not out of the realm of possibility.”
Interview by ONE Championship. Story by Simon Head.
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