Following a decorated grappling career where he became a multiple-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu no-gi world champion, the 26-year-old American made his official transition to the cage under ONE’s Global Rule Set.
Tonon met Richard “Notorious” Corminal in a lightweight clash, and he impressed with a debut performance that ignited the crowd inside the Impact Arena in Bangkok, Thailand.
Instead of leaning on his world-class grappling expertise, “The Lion Killer” fearlessly looked to make a statement with his stand-up. He rocked the Filipino striker with his new skill set and got him to the ground repeatedly, but never once looked for a submission to put his opponent away.
The American opted to finish with strikes, and unleashed a barrage of ground and pound to earn a second-round TKO win.
Days removed from his first victory in ONE Championship, Tonon sat down for an exclusive interview to talk about what unfolded at ONE: IRON WILL, his expectations for the future, and when he plans to compete next.
ONE: Now that you have had a week to reflect, what was your first experience like in the ONE cage?
Garry Tonon: Overall, I still feel it was the craziest experience of my whole life. It was interesting because obviously I have been competing in professional grappling for quite some time, and there are always anxieties and stresses that comes along with it.
Basically, the most stress I dealt with was when my hands were getting wrapped, which is the funny part. I think it was just finally settling into my head that now it is happening, and you are actually going to be competing soon. So I was kind of panicking when that was happening. Then I was warming up, and that felt good.
When I actually walked out [to the cage], I felt pretty good. I did not 100 percent know what to expect, so I think that is what drove me not to be overwhelmingly anxious, because I had not actually experienced it yet. It was just a whole new experience.
ONE: You looked incredibly comfortable as soon as you stepped in there. Walk us through that performance against Corminal.
GT: We touched gloves, I started creating distance, and I got hit a couple of times. You cannot tell in the video, but there was one time I got hit in the temple that was pretty bad, and with the four-ounce gloves it felt like somebody hit me on the side of the head with a brick. That woke me up, and then I started to protect myself, but I still was not really making contact, so I was getting a little bit nervous.
Eventually, I was able to slip a few strikes, and then counter-strike. I made contact really for the first time. I gained confidence. I think if I had stayed in that position for another 30 seconds, or a minute without making contact with him, I probably would have rushed forward, and taken him down. But I started landing more shots.
I hit him with one that put him down, and then a funny thing happened when I got him on the ground — I started to hit him there successively to the point where now, my objective is I am supposed to be finishing the contest.
My job is to knock him out now, but I had never done that before. That was the first time I am raining down punches, and I was trying to knock the guy out. Luckily, I did not hesitate, and I just kept throwing.
ONE: You are known for submissions, but never really went for one. Why not?
GT: I guess with the feeling that I got, that I had to learn how to hit somebody, I kind of wanted to feel what that was like. The idea of trying to submit my opponent, it is not that it did not cross my mind — you saw a few different times where maybe I thought about trying some jiu-jitsu.
There were a few times I thought about it, but ultimately I just decided to go for the TKO. I felt pretty safe once I was on top throwing punches, and I felt like I could get him done that way.
ONE: How quickly do you want to progress your career now that your first match is out of the way?
GT: I have some minor injuries. Nothing serious, but I was talking to one of the guys that runs the organization, and they were saying it was possible for me to have another bout within a month.
As excited as I would be to do that, I do not think I would be able to. I am thinking sometime within the next two months, three months at the most. As soon as I can compete again, I would love to. I am shooting for a minimum of three bouts this year, bare minimum.
ONE: Going into ONE: IRON WILL, you said that you see yourself as a future world champion. Are those goals still the same after this match?
GT: I believe I have the skills, just with my jiu-jitsu alone, to pretty much beat anybody in the world on any given day. It could happen. The question is how many times out of 10, or how many times out of a 100, would I win? I could take on the champion right now, and there is a chance I could pull off the submission. It could happen.
Right now, the other side of the spectrum is far more likely where he prevents the takedown, and I get my faced punched because I am not ready for that level of striking. I feel like I am ready tomorrow for whomever holds the title in my weight class, but I have to be smart, think about my longevity, and not take too much damage this early in my career. It just does not make sense.
I am on the winning side of things right now, so if anything, it just makes me more excited to become the best I can be, and make it to the top. I am even more positive right now about my goals to become the best in the world in my weight class.
I am definitely still excited to do that, but this is coming from the perspective of me winning. We have seen other athletes take some tough losses, and it changes their path. I am not naive enough to think I have the full taste of what this is like yet. I would like to believe I would take a loss well, and come back from it, but you never know until it happens.