After more than a year away from competition, #5-ranked featherweight contender Garry “The Lion Killer” Tonon is ready to resume his incredible rampage through the featherweight division.
Tonon, who’s gone 5-0 in ONE Championship and is coming off a pair of first-round finishes, expects to make an emphatic statement that he should be next in line for a World Title shot.
“I’m no longer feeling things out when I’m fighting anymore, or testing the waters with striking,” he says.
“When I go out to fight, I go out to win and crush my opponents as quickly as possible. So, I think this will be another situation where I am very dominant very early.”
Despite his stunning run of success, the American has not been resting on his laurels. He continues to build up his all-around game – something he knows will be needed to earn gold in the stacked division.
“I wouldn’t say there’s one specific skill that I’ve been working on, but I’ve just been trying to get better at mixed martial arts,” the New Jersey native says. “I have a long road ahead of me.”
So far, that road has been fruitful for Tonon, whose journey has been a model for anyone transitioning from a single discipline into mixed martial arts.
Much of the blueprint has come from mastermind John Danaher, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and mixed martial arts coach who’s worked closely with the Evolve and Team Renzo Gracie product.
“John was always reinforcing this idea of integration,” Tonon says. “The idea that, yes, I have this skill that is jiu-jitsu, but jiu-jitsu doesn’t actually exist in mixed martial arts.
“And when I say that, I mean it in its purest form. It’s a different thing. You integrate jiu-jitsu into these other skills to become a good fighter. That’s what we always worked on from day one.”
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That night, the American surprised many by showcasing his hands and earning a TKO stoppage in the second round, finishing the fight with a barrage of punches and elbows from mount.
“I also want to be able to do damage sometimes when I get into any dominant position,” Tonon says.
“Ok, cool, you got mount, great, but if all you do is sit in mount, and you’re not doing any damage, then there’s a problem there. The guy’s going to get back up and try to tee off on your head again.”
The victory over Corminal showed that the BJJ star was a real threat in mixed martial arts, and he proved that again with a third-round submission of Rahul “The Kerala Krusher” Raju at ONE: REIGN OF KINGS in July 2018. Four months later, it was another submission victory – this time against Sung Jong Lee at ONE: HEART OF THE LION.
Tonon’s last two outings – against Anthony Engelen at ONE: A NEW ERA in March 2019 and Yoshiki Nakahara at ONE: ENTER THE DRAGON in May 2019 – were finished inside the first five minutes. The extraordinary run earned him the #5-featherweight ranking and made him a crossover star.
With his career trajectory pointing straight up, there’s no doubt that Tonon has his eyes on the featherweight crown. Even with other contenders hoping for their own shot, he likes his odds.
“They could have a rematch [between current ONE Featherweight World Champion Thanh Le and former titleholder Martin Nguyen], they could make me have another fight before I fight for the title,” the American says. “But I definitely think that by winning, it puts me in a really good spot where I have the leverage to say, ‘Hey, I get the next crack at that thing.'”
Of course, “The Lion Killer” will need to get through Matsushima first, and he recognizes the difficult challenge posed by the #3-ranked Japanese athlete.
“I’m fighting somebody now that has fought for the title [against Nguyen] before and did pretty well, I have to say,” Tonon offers.
“He did get stopped, but it was competitive. I think Martin was struggling to deal with him in certain parts of that fight.
“I’ve paid close attention to what [Matsushima] does. He goes in and out a lot with kicks, and he kind of fights from a distance and explodes forward into takedowns. He also has a good reactive takedown. I’ll be mindful of all of those things.
“I don’t want to say it’s a threat, but it’s a potential problem to be solved.”
Win or lose, “The Lion Killer” wants fans to know they should expect an exciting contest when the bell rings. In fact, he welcomes both his supporters and his haters to watch his fights.
“I have a very movement-based style where things are constantly happening,” Tonon says. “Having ADHD probably plays a role in that, but it’s hard for me to sit still. It’s hard for there to be inactivity for long periods of time in anything that I do.
“I know there’s a lot of people out there that would love to tune in and watch Garry Tonon get knocked out, so this might be your chance to see that. You never know.”
Of course, “The Lion Killer” doesn’t see it going down that way during the co-main event in Singapore.
“I see this fight ending earlier rather than later,” Tonon says. “I predict a first-round submission or TKO.”