Garry “The Lion Killer” Tonon has always looked out for the little guy.
Actually, long before he was a multi-time grappling world champion, Tonon was himself the little guy. He was always one of the smallest children in his year in school.
That led to the American getting picked on quite a bit. However, it also taught him a valuable lesson that he has held on to throughout his entire martial arts career.
“I was always a step behind in terms of size and maturity. I was an easy target for that sort of thing,” the 26-year-old New Yorker says ahead of his debut at ONE: IRON WILL. “But it was not like I was picked on, and did not do anything or say anything about it.
If somebody tried to pick on me, I would always stand up for myself. It would not always work, but I would always stand up for myself, and most times, I would fend people off.
“That kind of bullying culture, to a certain degree, helped me become stronger mentally. It helped me to learn to stand up for myself, and not take anything from anybody.”
However, that was not all, as “The Lion Killer” was raised primarily by a single mother who worked with children with special needs. That meant Tonon was always in situations where he had to defend others, too.
“Being raised by my mother, I adapted a more non-confrontational attitude,” he continues.
“I did not look for conflict. She worked with special needs kids, so I spent most of my life helping people who were not in the best circumstances. My nature was more to help someone who was not doing so well, as opposed to starting conflict with somebody.”
Tonon never complained about the role he was given in life. But as he reached his teenage years, he got involved in athletics, and he soon discovered a whole new kind of pecking order.
The American’s first taste of the grappling arts happened through wrestling. And while on the wrestling mats, he learned a lesson that has stuck with him ever since: only the strong survive.
“It is a rough and tumble sport. It is not a sport for weak-minded individuals. They cannot survive that. It can build you up to become a stronger person, but at the same time, if you do not get built up, you will quit,” Tonon explains.
“A lot of alphas tend to stick around, and those are the experienced guys. When a lot of alpha males get together, bullying just ensues. That is just what happens. They are jockeying for position. It happens in primates as well.”
Thankfully for “The Lion Killer,” he adapted to that culture rather quickly, and it was due to wrestling that he eventually discovered Brazilian jiu-jitsu. The rest, as they say, is history.
“I was doing wrestling at the time, but had never even heard of this sport (BJJ) — until one of my friends, who was doing wrestling at age 14, started to do jiu-jitsu, and he was telling me about it,” Tonon recollects.
“At first, I did not even believe him. He was like, ‘It’s kind of like wrestling, except we try to choke each other.’ And I’m like, ‘That’s crazy! That’s not real!’ I thought it was professional wrestling. I figured nobody would let kids do that to each other.
“So he invited me to a competition. I went, and I was like, ‘This is so cool.’ After that, he started showing me videos and all sorts of things, and I became more immersed in that culture.”
From there, Tonon’s transformation was complete, and today he stands as one of the most feared and ferocious grapplers on the planet.
Now, “The Lion Killer” prepares for his next transition — as a role model for other kids in bad spots, just like he was, on the global stage of ONE Championship.