When Garry Tonon was considered one of the top grapplers in the world just a few years ago, he was starting to earn real money after many Brazilian jiu-jitsu stylists essentially conceded that tournament or superfight competition would never result in financial success.
In those days — and this is only dating back three or four years — Tonon knew that grappling competitions were almost like an advertisement that helped build a reputation, which could then lead to opening a school or teaching.
Times are changing, however, with more and more investments being in Brazilian jiu-jitsu competitions, including Tonon’s longtime teammate Gordon Ryan inking a deal in early 2023 that guaranteed him at least $1 million for grappling competitions alone.
“Unfortunately, prior to my generation, there were other people that for sure pioneered the sport, but outside of seminars and outside things that they did, moving onto mixed martial arts, whatever it was, they had to parlay that into some other opportunity,” Tonon explained in an interview with MMA Fighting. “They couldn’t focus on competing full time and make money doing that full-time.
“I got the best of both worlds. I got to help pioneer the sport, and then I got some level of compensation for it, and that’s cool. I love to see that more and more. It is cool to have a guy just be able to focus on grappling, and not have to move to MMA.”
Ryan planned his transition into MMA before deciding to focus on his grappling career, which then led to his record-breaking contract.
Meanwhile, Tonon opted to pursue a career in fighting. He currently sports a 7-1 record in ONE Championship, with his next bout scheduled against undefeated prospect Shamil Gasanov at ONE Fight Night 12, which airs on Amazon Prime in the U.S.
As much as he appreciates that many of his friends and teammates are now starting to earn a living exclusively through grappling, Tonon doesn’t plan on abandoning his MMA career to join them. He still loves grappling and might even be open to returning for a competition or two in the future, but he is only truly interested in MMA for now.
“I’d still do grappling matches but MMA is my main focus,” he said. “I feel like I win this fight, and then it’s time for a title run. It puts me in a precarious spot. It puts me in a spot where I want to do these things, but if I win this fight, I can smell the title opportunity and it’s like do derail everything for two months for a grappling match? Realistically it’s more time than that, because I need a buffer of time before the grappling match, I need a buffer of time after the grappling match, and then I need my fight camp for my next fight.
“A title is just so important. If I feel like I can squeeze [a grappling match] in I will but fighting has to be a priority.”
During his grappling career, Tonon engaged in numerous high-profile matches against some of the best grapplers in the world. He even got involved in a heated rivalry with Dillon Danis, who was once a mainstay on the same grappling circuit until he largely disappeared from competitions to briefly explore an MMA career.
Tonon sighed when asked about revisiting that rivalry for a future grappling match; Danis constantly teases his return to action, yet remains far more active on social media than he does in competition.
“I do whatever I can nowadays to just ignore his existence,” Tonon said about Danis. “It’s kind of what he’s asking for. No matter what I say to detriment to him, whatever negative I throw his way, we’re talking about this guy right now and giving him airtime, and that’s really the only airtime he can get, because he doesn’t do anything. He’s not fighting, he’s not grappling, he’s not doing any of these things. So the only way he can get airtime for is people talking s*** about him, and whatever drama he himself finds ways to create. That’s his career now realistically.
“He used to be in sports, and now he is an entertainer. He is a soap opera character on social media, and that’s who he is. Clearly he enjoys it on some level and god bless. I’m not even going to say anything negative other than that.”