Garry Tonon on ADCC, Coaching and His Future With ONE Championship

Grapplinginsider.com recently sat down with 5-time EBI champ and submission only grappling legend Garry Tonon to talk all things MMA, ADCC and coaching. Tonon is coming off a big win at One Championship: Enter the Dragon, and was expected to make his return to submission grappling at ADCC, but it looks like that’s no longer the plan:

So you just won your last fight, what’s the plan – are you going to fight before ADCC?

As of right now I have told ADCC that I won’t be there. I don’t want them to try to keep the invitation open. There’s an event in Japan that’s near the same date as ADCC. I think there’s a good chance I end up being on that card, so I don’t want to take a chance that I have to split my focus on the two things. I really would love to do ADCC, you know, it’s like a huge deal for me, but I’ve done it three times now and I think there will be times in the future to have other opportunities. It sucks to have to miss but at the same time, MMA is my main focus now.

We’ll see what happens, who knows, maybe I don’t get put on the card and then I can let those guys [ADCC] know I’m available and if someone pulls out maybe I can fill in. I don’t want them hinging on my schedule. I’m just trying to do the responsible thing. I didn’t want to have to pull out at the last minute or anything, so I just told them that I was going to have a commitment.

As of right now I’m trying to get a[n MMA] fight as soon as possible. I’m just waiting on them to talk to me about opponents and things but as far as I know they were saying the turnaround time as going to be very quick, similar to my last fight. You probably won’t hear about it until late, because they don’t usually let me say anything until after they announce it. So even though it may be soon, you may not hear about it for a while.

So you said your priority is MMA, would you find that it would be possible to focus on a grappling match or grappling in general?

Yes and no. I still train BJJ twice a day. Not a lot has changed in terms of my actual training, other than my goals. So when I train jiujitsu, at certain intervals I don’t just focus on what I would do in a jiujitsu match, I think about what I would do in an MMA fight. It changes things. I’m still training actively. I still feel very strong when I train with high level guys, I don’t really feel like I’m missing a lot of beats. Obviously I’m not innovating in the same ways I would be if I was just focused on jiujitsu, but I feel ready for a grappling match if I was going to take one.

We’ll see what the future holds, if the right match came along at the right time, I still think that it’s a real possibility. But as of right now, main focus is MMA. I want to try to get as much experience as I can because that’s the biggest thing that I lack at this point in time. I think I have a lot of high level skills, it’s just a matter of getting the experience and continuing to work on the weaknesses that I do have.

Absolutely. Are you still allowed to take grappling matches with your ONEChampionship contract?

So I had mentioned this earlier when I first signed with ONE, I tried to make sure that in the contract that it allowed me to take superfights. In the contract it says I’m allowed to do that, but they have some say in whether or not that’s going to happen. I can’t just take a random match, they have to approve it. Like I said before with the [ADCC] match that’s really close to a fight. As an asset to their organization, they don’t want to risk me getting injured doing something else that has nothing to do with them. The only restrictions you’ll see is anything that’s put on through the UFC.

I can’t take anything that will air on UFC Fight Pass, just because they’re looked at as their competitor. It’s one thing to compete in a grappling arena, where [those promoters] don’t have anything to do with MMA. For example, when EBI switched over to combat stuff. I was scheduled to do EBI, my ONE contract prevented me from taking it once it became a combat match. So I can’t take anything that’s going to lean too much towards MMA, whether it’s a competing organization, or the ruleset is related to MMA. I understand that.

It doesn’t bar me from competing in grappling at all, it just means that I have to kind of consider their feelings about the issue. They’re open to having grappling in their organization as well, I think you very well may see, before Gordon [Ryan] takes an MMA fight, we may see him do a grappling match at ONE championship. So who knows, maybe you’ll see that from me as well. I’m really not opposed, I’m leaving that door open. I just think it’s a little difficult with my MMA schedule right now.

So when I first spoke with you, your goal was to get into MMA, and now it’s getting MMA titles. What about after MMA, do you see yourself coming back to grappling full time?

I don’t know, that’s a good question. There’s a lot to consider. I don’t know exactly how my MMA career is going to go. It’s been going really well so far, but it’s hard to say how long everything’s going to last, how long I’m going to be interested in being involved in the sport. If my MMA career ends in my mid-to-late thirties, I might take some matches, but saying I’m going to go back to competing in grappling full time might be a strong statement.

It’s hard for me to predict how my body will be and know exactly where I’ll be moving. I find it unlikely that after I’m done with MMA, I’ll never take another grappling match, but I also don’t think we’ll see me going back to grappling full swing like I was previously. If it happens again it’ll be intermittent. I do love competing, it’s hard to rid someone of that. Even with my original coach, Tom DeBlass, he’s retired from grappling and MMA so many times and come back.

There’s a lot to look forward to. The main focus, after MMA is over, is to be a coach. I think that’s my grand plan. I want to do all this to get a lot of knowledge so that when I go to try to teach the next generation, I have a good basis for not just watching the sport and paying attention to it, but being in it. That way I can give them a point of reference from my own experience. The sport’s evolving constantly but I think it’s good while I have the body and the health to throw myself in there and actually experience it, so when I go to coach people it comes from a place of experience.

You’ve got Renzo, Ricardo, they all fought MMA and did it successfully, is it important to you to follow in their footsteps?

Yeah absolutely but I try to look at both sides of the coin. I’m taught mostly by John [Danaher] now and he hasn’t really competed or fought. He’s got a lot of experience teaching and coaching different guys. Really both are important. For instance I was talking to Nicky [Rodriguez] the other day, how if I were going to teach someone to do mixed martial arts the way I do mixed martial arts, there’s a good chance they would fail because I have certain skills that some people do not have. Most people that I coach won’t be a multiple time jiujitsu world champion, most of them will have a striking background or something like that.

For my game, I don’t really care if I get my back taken, actually for me, that may be one of the safest places to be. Someone could be on my back and it doesn’t even matter, there’s a good chance that I won’t get submitted or will escape. If I taught someone, it’s more than likely that they’d get strangled from the back if they tried that.

There’s a certain role that my own experience in MMA is going to play but there’s also what John does and what he coaches me to do, and that’s to watch some of the greatest athletes at all the different genres of MMA, whether it’s kickboxing, boxing, wrestling. Looking at the best at these and in MMA, and use that to help anyone that I’m going to coach. That way even if someone doesn’t have the same background as me, I’ll still be able to help them and coach them.

Again, like I said, if I tried to look at everyone as if they were me, I think that’s a failing strategy. When you try to make everyone a carbon copy of yourself, I think that you’re probably under-utilizing their strengths and ignoring some of their weaknesses. I’m looking forward to a continued study of martial arts and using it to coach. I think sometimes people have a long career and learn a lot of things, but then they just stop. And then they just try to use whatever they learned in the past to coach their athletes. That’s a little dangerous because you can see it with BJJ now – it’s not like it was 10 years ago, and if you try to coach based on your experiences 10 years ago, you won’t be competitive.

You came from an era where people started to doubt the relevancy of high level BJJ in MMA, people are focusing on wrestling, kickboxing. Do you feel a pressure to prove how good jiujitsu can be, especially to modern guys?

I don’t know if I’d say I feel a pressure. I think I have a general, especially because my coach John Danaher has given me a high level of expertise in jiujitsu and submission grappling, I always want to go out there and prove the things he’s taught to us. He didn’t go out there and compete himself, so I have some sense of responsibility for that. I think Gordon and Nicky feel that way to a certain degree. It’s not a pressure though, it’s not a huge weight that I feel when I go out there.

I am going to try to bring back submission grappling and it’s relevance in MMA. I’d like to be able to effect a wave of change among multiple people to bring back the relevance of grappling in MMA, or at least submission grappling. It’s going to take more than me. It’ll be me, Gordan, and more people from the team that we eventually develop and people that I develop and teach. It’ll take multiple people to make the world change in that regard.

Look at certain people like Pelhares who just came in MMA and proved that it could be very effective. But people just kind of look at him like yeah, that’s what he does and he’s special. Only he can do this. It didn’t change the sport, it was just a flash in the pan – one battle. In order to effect a change in the sport, you have to be highly effective, and I also think you need more than one person showing that effectiveness, otherwise people just think that only that one person is special or talented, or whatever the case may be.

It has to get to a point where people feel when they go to train for a fight that if they don’t train leg locks at all, that they’re going to go out there and get heel hooked, the same way that people feel right now that if they don’t train any stand up, they’re going to get knocked out. It takes more than just one guy to make that kind of change happen, the same way we made it happen in jiujitsu.

I don’t necessarily feel a pressure, I just feel a pressure to win, that’s the most important thing to me. Win and win in a way I’m not going to get my face punched off hopefully. Hopefully every fight ends the same way as the last one.