Jiu-jitsu supremo Garry Tonon thought he got away scot-free following his 25-hour trip home from the Philippines — the scene of his second MMA outing.
However, when he tried to return to the mats of Renzo Gracie’s gym the following morning, his whole body cramped up to the point that he couldn’t even execute a single technique. After the session, Tonon was overwhelmed by a stifling fever. He spent the day upstairs in the gym “shivering under a towel”, and just when he thought he had waited out the storm, his throat started to close up.
After five days of agony, “The Lion Killer” finally went to the doctor, who prescribed him antibiotics. The medication eventually got his ailment under control, much like Tonon did with his latest opponent, Rahul Raju, who he submitted in the third round of their ding-dong clash at One Championship: Reign of Kings.
Raju proved well versed on the ground and managed to escape a number of Tonon’s patented leg locks before eventually succumbing to a rear-naked choke with a little over a minute left on the clock.
For Tonon, after overcoming adversity and having to go into deep waters to finish the fight, his sophomore MMA outing was a success.
“I put all my performances on a sliding scale now because of my lack of experience in MMA, so I try not to knit-pick too harshly,” Tonon told MMA Fighting.
“Just like the first few times I competed in the jiu-jitsu, I knew I had so little experience that it would be very hard to judge myself based on that. To be honest, I think it was a pretty good performance. This time around I was highlighting my submission game rather than the striking people saw in my debut.”
As one of the trailblazers of modern grappling’s push for professionalism through promotions like Metamoris, EBI and Polaris, Tonon was a well-known quantity to MMA audiences before he announced his intention to compete in the sport. Even with the MMA world focused on UFC Calgary the same weekend he took on Raju, there was ample curiosity reserved for the black belt’s second test in MMA.
“It certainly adds a degree of pressure that wasn’t there, for multiple reasons, when I first started competing in jiu-jitsu. First of all, when I first started competing in jiu-jitsu nobody knew who I was. Also, I didn’t have any crazy expectations for myself. Really, it was a very different experience.
“As my jiu-jitsu career progressed, I got to compete on a lot of big stages and that certainly helped me to prepare for the big shows that ONE Championship put on. But, because MMA is still a skill that I haven’t mastered, there’s a lot of anxiety and nerves that make it a bit harder for me to let loose out there. It’s not like I’m having amateur fights that nobody is watching and I can play around — if I get knocked out people are going to know about it. It’s not going to be something that surfaces 10 years from now.
“Even though it’s my first few fights, and I’ve never fought at amateur, if I get knocked out people are going to talk about it…a lot. There is way more pressure than if I had just started the way most people do in mixed martial arts.”
In MMA, ample online criticism comes with notoriety. Tonon feels as though growing up in the era that created social media trolls has prepared him for the gnarly onslaught that has come to be expected after his performances, be it in jiu-jitsu or MMA.
“That’s just the world we live in now with social media. Everything that people would normally say behind your back is public where everyone can see it. Not only do people feel comfortable doing that on their own social media channels, they’ll jump on one of my posts and say terrible things,” he explained.
“To be honest, I have fun with that kind of stuff. It’s all a bit of a game to me. I grew up in that era so I’m used to it. People saying negative things about me has never been a huge problem for me in my life. I got bullied a bit in school, but I always stood up for myself and had fun with it. I’m way more likely to turn something into a joke than take it seriously.”
That being said, based on his first two MMA bouts, he doesn’t envisage any possibility where his fights could come and go without him seeing action from the ever-curdling commenters.
“In my first fight, I used a lot more striking, I basically grapple-boxed my opponent. In the second fight, I used my submission skills. It’s funny because that showed me that at both ends of the MMA spectrum — grappling and striking — I’m going to get criticism,” he said, laughing.
“After my debut people were like, ‘Did you forget how to do jiu-jitsu?’ After my last fight they said, ‘You might have got the submission, but your striking looked pretty sh*tty’ — you can’t win. I see posts from Georges St-Pierre, the greatest fighter of all time, and he’s putting up with the same stuff. It’s hard to take it seriously when you see a guy who has had a career like his getting the same treatment.”
And it’s not like Tonon wants all of his bouts to be a walk in the park. He openly spoke about how his win over Raju was more satisfying after overcoming some troubling moments — unlike his debut, a one-sided TKO win over Richard Corminal back in March.
“I think anyone who has competed in any sport feels that when the competition is better and you feel you have been challenged, it’s always going to be more rewarding when you end up winning. My opponent was able to fire off some pretty hard shots. It was definitely more of a challenge than my first fight, and at the end, I felt a little more proud of myself.”
Tonon expects to be in action again before the end of 2018. Although he can’t reveal dates or an opponent, the fight will definitely take place under the ONE Championship banner, a promotion he is happy to call home following his first two MMA bouts.
“I think I’m going to be with ONE for a long period of time. I don’t plan on leaving any time soon, and they’ve been really great with me,” Tonon said.