The Music That Shaped BJJ Star Garry Tonon
Martial arts have always been Garry Tonon’s greatest passion, but the New Jersey native also has an ear for music.
“The Lion Killer” – who will face Tye Ruotolo in a lightweight submission grappling match at ONE 157: Petchmorakot vs. Vienot on Friday, 20 May – studied music for around 10 years and sang in choirs during his youth.
Though he ultimately focused on his burgeoning grappling career, Tonon was still shaped by the songs around him.
Ahead of his return to the Circle, the #4-ranked featherweight MMA contender breaks down the music that forms the soundtrack to his life.
Always Surrounded By Classic Rock
Although he owns an eclectic musical taste and finds the beauty in most genres, Tonon is a classic rock kid at heart.
Like many others, the 30-year-old was heavily influenced by songs from previous generations, and he cites some timeless legends among his favorites.
“By default, I would listen to classic rock. I think that comes mostly from the fact that those were the kinds of things that a lot of my role models growing up were listening to.
“My stepfather played the guitar and listened to a lot of classic rock and stuff. My aunt as well was into a lot of classic rock. She was somebody that was a big role model in my life, too.
“If I was going to name some artists, I would say like AC/DC would be my number one. I would listen to ‘TNT’ over and over again. I just really loved that. Foreigner is really good. I’ve walked out to their songs a couple of times – ‘Jukebox Hero’ specifically.”
Growing Up Through The Nu-Metal Era
Like most teenagers, Tonon didn’t just want to be defined by songs from the past, and he found contemporary bands that also hit the spot.
He especially enjoyed the early-2000s surge in nu-metal and pop-punk, and he still listens to some of those artists today.
“The Lion Killer” said:
“Linkin Park was a big one when I was a kid that I would listen to. I still listen to it now, but that was something that was more of my generation that I was listening to that I found to be really interesting.
“The lyrics were very good, and the style of the genre was just very cool. It tended to mix a lot of different things. You had a little bit of rap, a little bit of rock, a little bit of punk all mixed together, which was kind of cool. So I really enjoyed stuff like that.
“Then more on the punky side, Sum 41 I was super into as well. And still am. I don’t know if I’ve listened to any of their current stuff, but I still have the stuff of theirs on my playlist.”
A Song To Get Through Tough Times
There’s a tune for every emotion, and difficult times often come with their own soundtrack.
There’s one track in particular that stands out for Tonon when it comes to encapsulating those melancholy moments and helping him remember important figures he’s lost.
“There’s a song called ‘Fire and Rain’ by James Taylor. That’s definitely one of them that I listened to that makes me reflect and look back on a lot of sadness and emotional times, specifically with people that died in my life that impacted me in different ways.”
Music In The Gym?
For some people, a workout is defined by the music that accompanies it.
That’s no longer the case for Tonon, who keeps his focus on the mats while training under legendary grappling coach John Danaher.
But if the American does put together a gym soundtrack, he’d prefer to keep it light.
“John is not a big fan of listening to music while we train, so we pretty much don’t do that.
“Back when I had my gym and I was teaching every day, I would put on music when we did our live training. And I would just put on stuff that I like that was relatively upbeat.
“I would often be looking for a playlist of classic rock or metal or something like that. Nothing too intense. If it was too aggressive, I think it makes everybody a little [anxious]. It makes me anxious anyway. I don’t want everybody to be trying to take each other’s heads off in training, personally.”
Garry Tonon’s Potential Future In Music
With his own background in music – and his “above average” singing voice – will Tonon ever consider releasing his own material?
He won’t rule it out, but he would only commit to a passion project when time allows, and right now, his efforts are still fully dedicated to martial arts.
“I have even thought about possibly making music at some point. It’s just the amount of time necessary to do something that’s really worth putting out there, something that you’re going to sell.
“I’m sure at some point I’ll put out a video – and I have before – where I’m singing and playing the guitar, or something like that. But if I’m going to sell something, I take a lot of pride in the things that I do. I don’t like just half-assing, so whatever it is would have to be really good, you know?”