Garry Tonon has won countless accolades in the world of competitive jiu-jitsu, but now he can boast another combat sports feather in his cap: winning MMA fighter.
The 26-year-old New Jersey native recently made a successful MMA debut at ONE Championship: Iron Will with a second-round TKO victory over Richard Corminal to kick off the evening’s main card, flashing some surprising striking skills as well as his expected dominance on the mat.
Due to ONE’s opening ceremony that includes all the main card fighters except those participating in the opener, Tonon had an agonizing 30-minute wait between getting his hands taped up for the first time and actually getting to throw them. He was eager to show off his developing standup skills — much to the concern of his coaches — and that almost proved to be an unwise strategy.
“I was a little nervous at the beginning because he was making contact and I wasn’t, and I was like, ‘Maybe I’m not so good at this,’” Tonon told Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour on Monday. “I was getting a little nervous there and I thought maybe let me back off to the fence or something. Then I started to make contact a couple of times, I felt pretty confident, and then after the first round I almost thought they might stop it because I was hitting him so much on the ground, after that first round it was all smiles for me.
“I knew I did enough damage that I didn’t think he was going to be able to come back and I thought I was going to continue to land, which I did. Then I took him down again and that was the end of the fight.”
Tonon’s striking skills were sharp enough to hurt Corminal early and keep Tonon in the lead on the scorecards until he decided to get back to his bread and butter. He put Corminal down, advanced to mount, and secured the win with a precise ground-and-pound assault.
It was hard not to be impressed by the first-time cagefighter, but Tonon himself sees plenty of room for improvement.
“I’m happy overall with the conditions, considering the fact that it’s my first fight and the first time I’m using striking and everything like that,” Tonon said. “I tend to be a perfectionist in everything that I do and I know that looking at me boxing isn’t like watching Floyd Mayweather or (Vasyl) Lomachenko so I’m not happy from that perspective, but with my skill development so far, I’m happy.”
Tonon actually suffered a minor ligament tear in his right hand in the first round of his fight, an injury he thinks may have occurred when he accidentally punched the mat while attempting to strike Corminal from top position. The self-inflicted injury was of little concern to him during the contest, and in fact he found himself more preoccupied with the hurt he was putting on his opponent.
“It’s the damage, back and forth,” Tonon said, speaking on one of the differences between MMA and jiu-jitsu competition. “The actual attempt to knock someone unconscious. You have to continue to punch until you’re either pulled away or they’re done or cut open or whatever the case may be.
“The thought of that goes through your head while you’re doing it, at least for me, and it’s just like a crazy thing to think about. One punch lands and you’re like, I guess we gotta keep doing this until the referee pulls me away.”
Tonon isn’t sure if he can balance his new life and his old one, though he stated that he’s ready to jump back right back into jiu-jitsu if the right matchup comes along. At the moment he’s still buzzing from his MMA triumph and he confessed that it may be the biggest thrill he’s ever experienced.
“I feel like I already do [like it more],” Tonon said when asked if he’d ever enjoy MMA more than grappling. “It’s really cool. There’s obviously some things that are not great about it, in terms of taking damage, in terms of the training, so there’s more of a clock on your ability to do MMA for a certain period of time than there is for jiu-jitsu. Jiu-jitsu is something I’m pretty certain I can continue doing for the rest of my life, and MMA, certainly not to the fullest extent I wouldn’t be able to do it competitively. In that way, jiu-jitsu will always be the thing that I love the most.
“Right now, I’m addicted to MMA. I really enjoy the training and I really enjoyed fighting. But who knows how that will change if I suffer a tough loss or get beat up during a fight? … Everything that I’m saying to you right now is coming from the perspective of somebody who only has tasted victory. All I’ve known is I got hit three or four times during the fight and I was the one doing the primary damage. I won, I didn’t lose a tough decision, I didn’t take a bunch of damage, I didn’t get knocked out yet. There’s so many of these things that have happened to other fighters that completely changed the way they thought about their careers and things like that so let’s cross our fingers and assume that that’s never going to happen, but I’ll be realistic about it and know that where I’m speaking about MMA right now is only coming from a place of winning and not getting a lot of damage.”
Tonon hopes that his hand will recover in time for him to fight in late May or mid-June. Further down the road, he said he’d like to fight ONE lightweight and featherweight champion Martin Nguyen, and also meet Shinya Aoki in an MMA match (the two competed in a grappling match for ONE last May that Tonon won by heel hook submission).