Garry Tonon names dream opponents for return to submission grappling

Ahead of his fight at ONE Fight Night 12, Garry Tonon listed his ideal opponents for a return to submission grappling.

Although he is still very much in the hunt for a ONE Championship MMA world title, veteran BJJ black belt Garry Tonon isn’t necessarily done with grappling yet.

This Friday, at ONE Fight Night 12: Superlek vs. Khalilov on Prime Video, Tonon will square off with surging Russian contender Shamil “The Cobra” Gasanov in a featherweight MMA bout that could determine the division’s next title challenger.

With a win, the longtime John Danaher product could earn another shot at the ONE featherweight world title. Tonon suffered a crushing knockout loss to then-champion Thanh Le in his first title shot in March 2022, but bounced back in impressive fashion in January of this year, scoring a first-round submission win over Johnny Nunez.

For the time being, MMA remains Tonon’s primary focus, but he says he’d be interested in certain submission grappling matches if the timing and opponent is right.

In an interview with ONE Championship, he said:

“Yes I’m interested [in submission grappling] but with the caveat of it has to be very important… It has to be very exciting and it has to not interfere with whatever is going on in MMA at that point in time.”

Widely regarded as one of the most entertaining BJJ competitors ever, Tonon’s potential return to submission grappling – even if for just one match – should have grappling fans excited.

As for possible opponents that would draw “The Lion Killer” back to grappling, he is, first and foremost, interested in getting back his two most recent defeats in the sport. 

Last May at a ONE Championship event, Tonon was submitted by Tye Ruotolo. Four months later, at the 2022 ADCC World Championships, he suffered a stunning upset loss to Sam McNally

Those two opponents are at or near the top of Tonon’s list of athletes he’d like to face in grappling:

“I’m happy to compete again. I’d love to avenge those losses specifically – the ADCC loss and the one against Tye. For sure I’m motivated to avenge any loss that I’ve ever had.”

Beyond Ruotolo or McNally, Tonon says he’s been pulling for a match against former opponent and current UFC featherweight fighter Kron Gracie – whether it’s in MMA or grappling. Gracie submitted Tonon at the 2013 ADCC World Championships on his way to earning gold in the 66kg division in a match that is considered by many to be one of the best ADCC contests ever.

According to Tonon, he’s been doing what he can to earn a rematch with Gracie for nearly a decade, but Gracie simply doesn’t seem interested:

“A Kron Gracie match, f****** hands down, that’s huge. It’s literally been like a decade in the making. I don’t think he’s interested, I don’t think he’ll ever do it. I would do it in MMA. I would do it in jiu-jitsu. I’ve been saying this for a long time… He knows that he can make a s*** ton of money with that match if he wants. He knows that somebody will put it on. And there’s been no talk about it whatsoever, radio silence. So it’s unquestionable that it’s just not something he wants.”

Tonon also has his sights set on a grappling match with 2009 ADCC bronze medalist and current UFC featherweight Ryan Hall. His desire to grapple Hall, he says, is personal.

After Tonon lost to Le – Hall’s student – in his ONE world title shot, Hall made some disparaging remarks about Tonon. That wasn’t the first time Hall had criticized him, Tonon says:

“Ryan Hall is another big one. There’s a bit of drama between me and Ryan. Ryan is also one of the most successful grapplers in his era. It’s big in that regard. 

“It’s also big in a very personal regard. I’m just not pleased with him as a human being…. It’s not spite in terms of somebody not being a great human being or doing something to personally attack me that is the sole driving force. It’s the way in which it’s done…. It’s a very easy thing to prove if you’re better than somebody if you’re gonna make the claim that somebody sucks… And I think if you get very vocal and critical about a person’s performance and you are in the fight game, in the martial arts game, then you should be prepared to defend the things you have to say about that person… 

“On a few occasions, he’s mentioned things about myself and my team that were disparaging in terms of our abilities. And it’s like, okay, let’s show why you’re so much better and so much smarter. I don’t see why being roughly around the same weight class that that kind of thing can’t happen. If you feel so strongly about it, you’d think that you want to prove it.”

Another opponent who would motivate Tonon back into grappling is Tye Ruotolo’s twin brother, Kade Ruotolo, who currently holds the ONE lightweight submission grappling world title:

“I’d love to run the match back with Tye but also, I think all things considered, first on the priority list would be to get the match with Kade since he’s closer to my weight class and they have similar skill sets. And then run it back with Tye after that.”

And finally, Tonon says that more than either Gracie or Hall or a Ruotolo brother, he’d love another crack at two-time ADCC champion JT Torres – a man who narrowly defeated Tonon at both the 2017 and 2019 ADCC World Championships:

“Another huge one, obviously JT Torres. JT and me have had multiple matches that were 0-0 decisions in ADCC. We’re neck-and-neck in terms our athletic performances… That’s a huge one. That gets me excited… That really gets me, even more so than Kron and Ryan and the Ruotolos, that gets me out of my bed in the morning much more so than any other one.”

Ben Coate

Ben has been involved with grappling, whether through wrestling or Brazilian jiu-jitsu, essentially his entire life. After wrestling throughout his childhood, Ben found Brazilian jiu-jitsu as a young adult and quickly fell in love. He has been training for over ten years and currently holds the rank of brown belt, and remains involved in both the MMA and BJJ scene. Ben has been writing about combat sports since 2017. He has interviewed and profiled some of MMA's biggest stars, including multiple UFC champions.

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