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Garry Tonon believes upcoming fight will graduate him from prospect to title contender in ONE Championship

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Since the day he decided to move from grappling to mixed martial arts, Garry Tonon has been a prospect worth watching.

Through his first five fights, the Tom DeBlass and Ricardo Almeida Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt has wrapped up three submissions and two finishes by TKO with only a single opponent making it to the third round with him.

Following his last win over Yoshiki Nakahara last May, Tonon appeared to be on a fast track towards title contention in ONE Championship but then he ran into several roadblocks that prevented him from competing for the past 18 months.

“I’ve still been training and preparing,” Tonon told MMA Fighting about his recent absence from the sport. “I’ve been sparring and all these different things for fighting. MMA has been my main focus for a while now. I never stopped training. I did some grappling matches but I was doing mixed martial arts the entire time. It’s not like it was completely layoff from training but from fighting.

“It was a difficult thing. I worked out a new contract and that took some time. Then we scheduled a fight and we ended up scheduling it right at the beginning of when they had to cancel events because of COVID. The timing was just poor. I was getting ready to fight in March and that’s when everything got shut down.”

The time off may have curbed his momentum but Tonon is anxious to pick up right where he left off with a huge opportunity coming his way on Friday when he faces former title contender Koyomi Matsushima at ONE: Big Bang in Singapore.

In reality, Tonon has been champing at the bit for a higher level of competition like this but he’s struggled to find bigger named opponents willing to face him. In time, he expects everyone who had no desire to fight him will come to regret it.

“I know people are hesitant to fight me because of my record. I only have five fights,” Tonon explained. “But it’s like this fight is going to happen, I’m going to be there challenging for the title. I’m going to be up there with these guys. Now is the time to fight me. You’d rather fight me now than in two years.

“In two years, I’m going to be much better. Is everyone getting better? Sure, I wouldn’t disagree with that but there’s no way somebody that’s been doing this for a decade can get better at the same rate as somebody who’s only been doing this for three years. It’s just impossible.”

Nobody progresses at the exact same rate in this sport but Tonon has grown leaps and bounds from his debut fight until now.

Now that he’s finally facing a real contender in Matsushima on Friday, “The Lion Killer” expects this fight to serve notice that he’s no longer just a top prospect — he’s a real threat to the champion.

“I’m now actually going to be fighting somebody who’s fought for the title, I think it’s not debatable anymore,” Tonon said. “If I’m fighting the guy who had the opportunity and I beat him, especially in a convincing way, I don’t see how anybody could deny ‘hey this guy should get a shot.’

“Maybe I’m not going to be the next one to get the shot, that’s up for debate, but it definitely solidifies my position as one of the most dangerous men in the division. There can be no questions asked at that point.”

A new featherweight champion was just recently crowned in ONE Championship when Thanh Le pulled off a stunning upset to knock off Martin Nguyen in October. Tonon considers Le an incredibly tough challenge with his pinpoint accuracy and devastating striking, which is certainly a counter balance to his world-class grappling.

To get to Le and the championship, Tonon needs to dispatch Matsushima in impressive fashion and that’s exactly what he aims to do this weekend.

“I definitely think it’s a good measuring stick,” Tonon said about his upcoming fight. “It’s another tough challenge. He’s a super tough competitor. You don’t get records like 12-4 just sucking. There’s so much that can go wrong. To be anything more than a .500 fighter is something slightly short of a miracle. It says something. It’s hard.

“Absolutely a measuring stick not only for this division but also for my mixed martial arts ability in general.”