What Led Garry Tonon To The ONE Cage

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Garry “The Lion Killer” Tonon knows all eyes will be on him when he makes his professional cage debut at ONE: IRON WILL this coming Saturday, 24 March, at the Impact Arena in Bangkok, Thailand.

The Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, who first appeared in ONE Championship back in 2017 when he submitted former ONE Lightweight World Champion Shinya Aoki in the promotion’s first-ever Grappling Super-Match, is scheduled to face Richard “Notorious” Corminal in his first bout under ONE’s Global Rule Set.

We recently sat down with the multi-time grappling world champion to discuss his move to the ONE cage, his expectations for the future, and much more.

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ONE Championship: Last May, you appeared in the promotion’s inaugural Grappling Super-Match against Shinya Aoki. How was that experience?

Garry Tonon: It was pretty exciting. 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 organization, and it gave me a better feel for how they treat their athletes and their production.

ONE: You are considered one of the best grapplers on the planet, but why did now seem like the right time to make this transition?

GT: I have been looking to get into it for a while. I just was not 100 percent sure when it would happen. 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.

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ONE: How does that relate to what you expect to experience inside the cage?

GT: 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. 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.

ONE: You work with an incredible team in New York City, including coaches like Renzo Gracie and John Danaher. How much has that team helped you get ready for this debut?

GT: It is interesting, because so much of that just fell into place. 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.

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ONE: What was the biggest motivation for making this move?

GT: With the current skill set that I have, and the things that I have done in jiu-jitsu, I could do exactly what I am doing, and make a comfortable living. I could retire at this point, and just teach and teach seminars. But I want to challenge myself.

The other motivation I have comes from a teaching perspective. I have the opportunity because I am young, and I am healthy to test that stuff. I have the opportunity to go out there, and do it. As a teacher, I feel that is my job. If I am going to try to be the best teacher I want to be one day, this is what I have to do so I can become a better teacher, and help others eventually accomplish the same things.

ONE: Do you have long term goals with ONE Championship now that you’re starting this new career?

GT: What I am really preparing for in this training camp is five years from now. 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.

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