Like many children, Garry “The Lion Killer” Tonon grew up watching Hollywood films depicting a magical image of sports. But after participating in many sporting pursuits, he realized that real life was not quite like the movies.
“When I first started doing other sports, I think I was under the impression, as a child watching all these movies, that a kid could pick up a lucky baseball bat, and all of a sudden he is the best baseball player on Earth,” the 25-year-old explains.
“I was always under the assumption that I was just going to find a sport and be good, and that never happened. Every sport that I tried, I did just okay in it. I never really put the extra effort in.”
That was before the New Yorker discovered Brazilian jiu-itsu and the real magical secret to success – hard work.
“When I found jiu-jitsu, I started to realize that if I wanted to get good at this I really was going to have to put the actual work in. I realized: ‘I am going to have to study, and I have to do things outside the gym, and come to the gym as much as I can if I really do want to be the best at this,’” he says. “That is what jiu-jitsu taught me.”
Tonon would go on to become a black belt, earning the achievement in 2013, and has since garnered a reputation as one of the most successful and dangerous submission grapplers in the world on the back of his hard work.
In fact, he is an IBJJF World Champion, a two-time No-Gi World Champion, a multiple-time Pan American Champion, and a two-time EBI Welterweight Champion who holds a 55-19-1 record in grappling competition.
To this day, his life is committed to a grinding, full schedule of training and teaching at the Renzo Gracie Academy in Manhattan, New York. Not only is he teaching BJJ, but he is also becoming versed in Muay Thai and boxing.
That hardworking schedule is a matter of habit at this point, but it is also driven by his recognition that he regularly has to compete against the best of the best. After years of grappling at the highest level, Tonon will finally meet Asia’s finest in the form of Shinya Aoki at ONE: DYNASTY OF HEROES on Friday, 26 May.
The Japanese black belt and former ONE Lightweight World Champion often cuts a meek figure outside of the cage, but once the bell rings, he is relentless in his pursuit of a finish.
Tonon expects him to bring the heat during their submission-only mega match, and respects his opponent’s skills and attitude.
“He (Aoki) has been doing it really effectively for a really long time,” says Tonon. “Jiu-jitsu as a fighting style is not just for control purposes. It is done to be able to finish a fight, and that is what Shinya Aoki does. He is an extremely exciting fighter, and I am very excited to have an opportunity to test my grappling mettle against him.”
Undoubtedly, the American grappler believes he will best his Japanese counterpart in their match, and for a specific reason. He believes the longer the match goes on, the harder Aoki will find it to keep up with his transitions, because of just one reason – Aoki has trained mostly for MMA.
“I spend all day, every day, grappling with other grapplers,” says Tonon. “I think that a lot of the movements that he does are going to be perfect, and he is going to do a good job defending at first. But I believe that once he feels how sharp all of my transitions are, once he feels those transitions happening one after another, he is going to start getting left behind.”
Although “The Lion Killer” is confident he will defeat Aoki, he believes the rivalry is only beginning. In fact, Tonon is half-expecting that Aoki will call him out for a mixed martial arts bout after their Grappling Super-Match later this month.
“Who knows what is going to happen with this match, but I have good reason to believe that if I submit him, well, number one he probably will not be too happy about that,” he says. “But number two, I believe it will probably be grounds for him to challenge me to an MMA fight.
“I do not know. We will see. It could happen, it could not, but you know I will be ready. I am getting ready now, for if he does.”
Now that’s a prospect fans wouldn’t mind, either way.