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Garry Tonon has nothing to lose calling out ONE champion Martin Nguyen

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Garry Tonon
ONE Championship

In Garry Tonon’s mind, there’s no going back now.

It’s easy to see why Tonon is optimistic about his future in MMA. Already a star in the world of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Tonon has impressed in his first five ONE Championship bouts, winning all of them by submission or TKO. Having proven that he’s one to watch, the 28-year-old finds himself facing a problem that is familiar to many top prospects.

It’s becoming harder and harder for ONE matchmakers to book an opponent for him.

Tonon recently signed a new contract with the promotion that will provide him with financial security for the near future, but what isn’t guaranteed is Tonon’s path to a title shot.

He spoke to MMA Fighting about how perceptions of him have changed and how that’s interfering with his work life.

“Even after the contract negotiations, it seems like getting me a fight was becoming more and more difficult,” Tonon said. “It wasn’t as easy as it was before. Before it’s like, ‘Okay, we’re going to take this untested jiu-jitsu guy and we’re gonna knock him down early and gain a bunch of clout from his name.’ I think that’s what everybody was thinking maybe that I’d fought previously. They’re just like, ‘The dude has no amateur record. He knows how to do jiu-jitsu, but he doesn’t know how to f*cking fight, right? I could see myself beating this guy.’

“Now as I got to that fifth fight, especially the way that I ended my last fight, where literally it was such a quick—what was it, under a minute I think that I ended up getting a heel hook. I think people look at me now like, ‘Oh s*it, that’s what I’m gonna have to deal with.’”

With the secret out that Tonon can actually do more than just ruffle gis, the New Jersey native took matters into his own hands and recently called out ONE featherweight (155-pound) champion Martin Nguyen.

The callout was a respectful one and Tonon insists there’s no beef between himself and Nguyen. He just wants to get a fight booked and if the quickest way of getting a contract signed is by getting the champ’s attention then that’s what he’s going to do.

But make no mistake, Tonon isn’t looking for a participation trophy. He sees Nguyen as the next logical challenge after the lessons he’s learned in his first five fights.

In his MMA debut against Richard Corminal, he experimented with his standup game before finishing with strikes on the ground. Against Rahul Raju, he recalls the fight being more back-and-forth, while his third fight against Sung Jong Lee saw Tonon have to work through a cut and finish fast to avoid having the bout stopped prematurely.

His last two opponents—who had a combined 21-9 record—didn’t make it out of the opening round.

“It’s similar to having a knockout punch,” Tonon said of having the option to go to his grappling when necessary. “Jiu-jitsu almost the same way when you’re really good at submissions. If I have to end this fight, I can. I have the ability to do it. It’s got to be really scary for guys that don’t have knockout power, don’t really have as much of an ability to submit somebody. It’s got to be a weird situation where they’re losing a fight and they feel like they need to do something to win, it’s got to be hard for them to imagine a scenario and have the confidence to be able to do that because how are they gonna do it. I guess that they’re going to have to hope that they catch a lucky punch and the guy gets hit worse than normal, knocks the guy down, maybe they’ll win.

“When you have something like submissions to fall back on, it made me feel confident in myself after that third fight. Like if I need to fall back on this and submit the guy because something crazy is happening like a cut or I get knocked down or I get hit significantly, I have the skills to do it.”

Tonon credits Chael Sonnen for inspiring the Nguyen challenge. He wants to put Nguyen in a “Catch-22” situation where he believes the champion should feel confident about facing a relative newcomer and also pressured to not look like he’s avoiding a beatable opponent.

“[ONE matchmakers are] trying to set me up to get tougher and tougher fights to work towards the title, but I also don’t want to just sit on the bench for an extended period of time,” Tonon said. “I kind of was just thinking if it’s going to be like that and it’s going to be tough to get a fight, you know who’s not going to be afraid? The champ.

“Chael Sonnen says it best all the time… the kinds of guys that are like, ‘Oh, he doesn’t deserve the fight,’ that are the champions or even really anybody, it’s kind of crazy because you would think especially when you’re the champ, you already have the championship. You would want to fight the easiest fight you possibly could for the most amount of money. So if I’m the dude that’s inexperienced and you think you’re gonna be able to beat me. If I don’t deserve it, if I’m not tough enough, then take the fight. Because why not?”

Tonon recently suffered a cut over his eye that knocked him out of a scheduled charity grappling bout with UFC lightweight contender Dustin Poirier, but his plan is still to compete in April at one of ONE’s more MMA-centric shows (the organization’s March 20 event is primarily focused on kickboxing).

Though he’s heard nothing official from ONE or Nguyen’s camp, he knows a meeting between he and Nguyen will take place somewhere down the road.

“I always look to the future, I’m sure he does too,” Tonon said. “I think all highly successful people look to the future and they don’t just look at what’s happening right now. They look at what’s going to be happening four years from now, etc.

“The moment I signed with ONE, in my weight class I go, alright, who’s the champ? And I think when I signed with ONE, I’m pretty sure the champ at 155 was Martin. So when I switched weight classes, Martin was still the champ at ‘55. So this is the guy that I’m eventually gonna have to beat.”