Garry “The Lion Killer” Tonon was widely regarded as one of the best grapplers on the planet before his switch to mixed martial arts, and John Danaher — his coach at the Renzo Gracie Academy in New York — has helped to author his seamless transition.
The famous Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu coach is known for his analytical approach to combat, which keeps his athletes ahead of the curve.
However, he admits that Tonon’s mindset is the main factor behind his incredible success.
“Garry is universally recognized as probably the single-most exciting grappler in the world today. He is well-known for having one of the most exciting styles, mostly based around a devil-may-care approach to position and lethal submission holds,” Danaher notes.
“His game is based around risk — he takes a lot more risk than most grapplers in World Championship competition, often fights above his weight class against people far larger and stronger than himself, and has a very, very high success rate with submission holds.”
View this post on Instagram
So thankful that I've had the legend himself @danaherjohn with me every step of the way in my journey to the great unknown world of MMA. We started my very first shoot boxing training, drilling, and sparring, just over 3 months ago. Our biggest task was preparing me for something I basically had no knowledge, skills, or expertise in, fighting with strikes in the standing position. Along with that complete deficit in skill, I needed work in grapple box, fence wrestling, and clinch fighting. We needed to make up a lot of ground in a very short period of time, but at the same time not take to much damage while doing so. From running sparring, drilling, studying tape, strategy, tactics, to finally following me out to Thailand to corner me against my first ever opponent in MMA, John coordinated it all. I realize how difficult of a task that is, and how big of a commitment he made to helping me prepare. He helped me go from frantically fighting for my life in early sparring, to being genuinely confident going into my first fight. I'm loyal to this guy forever. Thanks for everything brother. Photo by @jeffreyschu. #tononvscorminal march 24th @onechampionship
This penchant for taking on seemingly insurmountable challenges has been a trademark of the New Jersey native’s athletic career, and he brought that same fearless attitude with him when he moved out of his comfort zone and entered a new arena.
It would have been easy for Tonon to stay within his usual parameters, but he was not willing to be stagnant. Instead, he went after a fresh goal of mixed martial arts glory in ONE Championship.
So far, he has managed to overcome every potential roadblock on his journey – both inside the gym and the Circle.
- Alain Ngalani Reveals His Hidden Talent
- 13 Things You Didn’t Know About Brandon Vera
- The Most Prolific Knockout Artists In ONE History
“This [switch to mixed martial arts] really adds quite a range of challenges,” Danaher admits.
“The first one is psychological. When you have a great deal of expertise in one aspect of martial arts — in Garry’s case, grappling — and then you go into mixed martial arts, the first thing you’re confronted by is the realization that you were an expert in one field and now you’re a beginner in a new field.
“Psychologically, that’s a tough thing for athletes to deal with, but Garry had a remarkable sense of humility when he came on to the other aspects of martial arts. Garry fully accepted the fact he was a complete beginner in those aspects.”
View this post on Instagram
Amazing first day here is Singapore at @evolvemma super seminar with @garrytonon @gordonlovesjiujitsu and @nickyryanbjj The theme of the camp is the crucial interface between offense and defense in Jiu Jitsu. Garry Tonon got everyone off to an incredible start with his signature escape into offense skills. Now it’s big Gordon Ryan up next to teach our approach to closed guard the way we like it – as a devastating attack position that with the right methods, can get you dominance from underneath an adversary. In the future Garry and Gordon will produce videos on these subjects so it’s amazing to see the depth of their instruction and their own innovative ways of presenting the material ???????? Things are about to start up now!!
Tonon was happy to start from the ground up, and he put the same enthusiasm into every facet of the sport.
He showed his vast evolution in his professional debut at ONE: IRON WILL in March 2018, where he shocked fans with his striking output and produced a well-rounded performance to defeat Richard Corminal via TKO in round two.
Since then, the Jersey boy has added another four victories to his slate and finished every single one of his opponents.
His eye-catching heel hook submission win over Yoshiki Nakahara last May proved that his grappling was just as potent as ever, but his demolition of Anthony Engelen via TKO in March 2019 was arguably his breakout moment.
“The Lion Killer” implemented his wrestling to take things to the canvas, and then he systematically blasted through the Dutch-Indonesian star with fierce ground and pound.
Aside from his competitive grappling background and willingness to learn, the rapid rate of progression Tonon has displayed over the past two years has had another catalyst — Danaher.
The Kiwi coach previously played a crucial role in the development of some legendary World Champions, and “The Lion Killer” has been able to learn from the systems his mentor put into place.
“There are many specialized skills in mixed martial arts, such as wrestling on the fence. These are all things that Garry had to learn right from the start,” Danaher offers.
“He had one big advantage insofar, as we have a lot of experience coaching mixed martial arts through the work of Georges St-Pierre and other famous mixed martial artists like this.
“The skills gained coaching and working with these athletes in the past was something that Garry could take on as he began his own foray into mixed martial arts.”
Tonon and his coach realize there is always room for improvement.
However, at 5-0 and with his eyes on Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen’s ONE Featherweight World Title, “The Lion Killer” might only be a few tweaks away from challenging for the gold.