Garry Tonon celebrates after defeating Anthony Engelen in ONE Championship

Just five fights into his professional mixed martial arts career, Garry Tonon is already laying the foundations for what appears to be the ideal way to crossover from jiu-jitsu to MMA.

“The Lion Killer” made his MMA debut with ONE Championship in March 2018, defeating Richard Corminal in the second round via ground and pound. Prior to the event, many fans imagined that Toon would merely look for a fast takedown to secure an easy submission win. However, what proceeded to take place was incredibly different to how many had predicted.

Tonon met Corminal in the middle of the cage and showcased his striking ability against the 4-3 fighter from the Philippines. Rather than relying on takedowns to bring his far superior grappling into play, Tonon showed that his striking is to be considered, as well, and that his potential in mixed martial arts is far greater than fans had ever imagined. Tonon remains undefeated after five fights with ONE Championship and has managed to stop all of his opponents so far.

Other grappling stars that have risen in popularity in recent years include Ryan Hall, Kron Gracie, Mackenzie Dern, Gilbert Burns, and now, most recently, Dillon Danis.

Danis’ debut at Bellator 198 resulted in a rare toe hold submission victory in the first round. He’ll compete for the second time in his professional career this weekend at Bellator 222.

The rise of grapplers in MMA

Speaking to John Hyon Ko on Kumite TV, Tonon expressed that despite past grudges, he’s rooting for Danis, Gracie, and others who are making the transition from jiu-jitsu to MMA.

“Overall, yes,” Tonon responded when asked whether he is cheering for Gracie, Danis, and other grapplers.

“Overall, I don’t wish that any of them do poorly, even the ones that I’ve had past grudges with, you could say, in the grappling world, because we do come from similar backgrounds.

“I’m very passionate about grappling and I did it for over ten years and for anyone to be able to succeed with some level of grappling always makes me excited. Whether it’s somebody in a mixed martial arts environment, or if I see a news report of someone defending against a bully because of that, or defending against someone who is trying to rob somebody, or whatever, it’s always just a cool thing because it’s something I’ve dedicated my life to, and it makes it seem more valuable when someone is able to use it effectively.”

The road ahead for Kron Gracie, Dillon Danis, and other grapplers

Kron Gracie and Dillon Danis began their mixed martial arts careers after experiencing tremendous success in the jiu-jitsu scene, much like Tonon. Speaking from his in-cage experience, “The Lion Killer” cautions that grapplers need to immediately consider all of the other skills that are applicable inside the cage.

“What’s going to become incredibly important for those guys, as well as the rest of the jiu-jitsu athletes who are coming up, who are interested in transferring to mixed martial arts, there’s just a lot of skills that they need to develop in addition to their grappling,” Tonon told John Hyon Ko.

“They could go in with a Demian Maia mentality and essentially try to grapple their way to victory, which is fine, but even Demian Maia has adapted himself to the mixed martial arts world. It’s not like he just goes in there and uses an IBJJF jiu-jitsu game when he is fighting these guys. He has a sense of what to do in that ring.”

“For instance, Demian does a really good job of putting people against the fence and pulling them down from there. And that skill in itself is just a huge piece of the puzzle that very few grapplers would have developed because they’re not fighting against a cage or a wall or anything like that, whether they’re jiu-jitsu guys or wrestlers, it doesn’t make any difference. It’s something that needs to be well-researched by their coaches or by themselves and practiced meticulously because it’s such a different piece to the puzzle.”

“But that’s kind of my worry, are they just going to go in there with the mindset I’m just going to submit everybody, I’m really good at grappling, or are they really going to adapt to that MMA environment.”

Rating the potential of former grapplers

Having paid close attention to the grappling scene for many years, Tonon has now refocused his attention toward mixed martial arts and what it takes to reach the top of the combat sport, whether it’s in ONE Championship in Asia or the UFC or Bellator in North America.

When asked which former grappler (not including himself) has the most potential in MMA, Tonon responded by saying that Kron Gracie has the most potential.

“The main reason I say Kron, and out of the people you mentioned, I would say Kron and Dillon. I think Kron probably has a slight edge, it’s hard to say because I haven’t grappled Kron in a long time. So it’s opinion based because I haven’t really seen. But I believe he just has a better ability to submit people. But I also believe Dillon has the ability to submit people, so I think that they’ll be able to take that a certain distance. They’re going to get in a cage with a lot of guys and find a way to get to that submission, or at least have the potential to do so.”

“There will be roadblocks though, and it depends on how much those guys work on those integral skills. [There’s] things like fence wrestling, clinch wrestling, boxing, shoot boxing and timing those takedowns. How much they work on those skills is going to determine their success in those situations, but I do believe they can go very far with just the skills that they have.”

“You know the same way that an elite boxer at a really high level is going to have certain successes in MMA and other certain struggles, that’s kind of the way I feel about those guys. But those would be my two picks, if I was to say that these guys were going to have a decent career so far based on what I’ve seen.”

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