Garry “The Lion Killer” Tonon has passed every test in his mixed martial arts career with flying colors.
The multiple-time Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu World Champion has a perfect 4-0 professional record, with two victories coming via submission and another two via TKO. So far, he has looked virtually untouchable inside the Circle.
That, however, could all change on Friday, 17 May.
Nakahara, a Gladiator Featherweight Champion, made quite an impression in his ONE Championship debut this past February, as he dispatched Emilio “The Honey Badger” Urrutia via third-round TKO. That extended his win streak to eight in a row, and he looks to lengthen it some more in Singapore.
Ahead of this exciting featherweight showdown, we caught up with Tonon to get his thoughts on his opponent, his mixed martial arts evolution, and more.
ONE Championship: The last time you graced the Circle, you defeated Anthony Engelen at ONE: A NEW ERA in March. That said, how quickly was this new match-up against Nakahara scheduled?
Garry Tonon: I had to schedule it pretty much immediately after my last fight.
I got a medical check to make sure everything was feeling pretty good. Then, for the next couple of days, we went out to the ONE Elite Retreat in Phuket. It was a little vacation thing, and they did some seminars to help us improve social media and things like that.
While I was there, I secured [the bout] because Chatri [Sityodtong] was there, and I just went up to him and said, “Hey, I’d definitely be in for that 17 May card.” He confirmed it, and everything went on from there.
ONE: You have been incredibly busy ever since making the transition to mixed martial arts in March 2018. Has that always been the plan for your career?
GT: Yeah because even though I feel as though I’m still young, I’m coming into this a little bit late.
I know other people have come [into this sport] later than me, or have been fighting and they’re much older, but I feel like we’re in a new age of fighting where guys are coming into this sport before their 20s, so the kind of longevity I’m going to have will be limited by how old I am.
I think injuries and durability over time just from competing in jiu-jitsu for so long [could play a factor], so I just want to make sure I get a decent length career out of this run. I want to fight as often as possible to get that experience because that’s the biggest missing link between me and my competitors — it’s just that experience.
ONE: Do you feel like that experience has been a big part of what has made you advance so fast in your career?
GT: Absolutely. It’s just different. There is a difference between actually fighting in the cage and just doing your drills and sparring. Every time I get out there and actually try the stuff that I’ve been training, it’s another level up for me. I get to see what I retained and what I didn’t.
To be in that competitive scenario and believe that you’ll be able to just do everything the way you did in the gym is a little bit far-fetched. You don’t really get a true snapshot of what you’re truly capable of until you step out into competition.
ONE: Nakahara is the most experienced opponent you will have faced. He has plenty of veteran experience, has competed against high-level martial artists, and could be a World Title contender soon. Do you agree?
GT: I 100 percent agree. Just looking at his record alone, the dude has never had a submission or KO loss. That tells you right there that you’re in for a long night. It’s pretty hard to get by with 20 fights and not have a single one of them end with a KO, a TKO, or a submission. If you go 20 fights and that doesn’t happen to you, that means you’re pretty good all-around. I think that alone speaks volumes.
Of course, we can always say, “This is the toughest test you’ve ever faced,” but I think this is a big step up from any of my previous competition. I think it’s a big challenge because of the type of assets he brings to the table.
I think everybody I’ve fought has the ability to do damage with striking, and that doesn’t change. He’s got some really serious-level judo that he doesn’t always use, but he can use it defensively to make it a nightmare for me to try to take him down and do the things that I would like to do. That adds another element. I think people are waiting for the day when Garry Tonon gets in the cage and doesn’t have as much of an option to take his opponent down.
ONE: Nakahara truly seems to be good in all aspects of the game. Do you think that’s what makes him such a fun, yet dangerous opponent?
GT: That’s definitely the case. I don’t think you could say that about many of the guys I was fighting before. He may not be well known to the American public, but the Asian fans will know who he is and know that he is a tough dude. I think at least from that perspective, if I manage to come out victorious, I’m going to get a lot of respect from people.
ONE: Considering what Nakahara brings into this contest, does that give you even more motivation?
GT: Absolutely. I’ve been preparing crazy hard for this. I pretty much jumped right back into fight camp as soon as I got home. I’m gearing up and getting ready to go. I’m treating this as the toughest fight of my life. It’s more motivation to get out there and perform to the best of my ability because I’ve got a real serious challenge ahead of me. It’s a big level up.
ONE: Finally, you have been very dominant in your past outings. But what kind of a statement does it make if you could do that against Nakahara?
GT: It’s one thing if this fight ends up going to decision, and it very well could. We’re dealing with a guy who hasn’t lost in a few years. That could be the case, but if I was able to win decisively in one or two rounds by submission or KO, it makes a big statement.