Tonon Vs Leon: A Guide For The Competitive Grappler

Garry Tonon vs Dante Leon on WNO Friday, July 31, was everything that submission-only grappling could hope to be.  It was more than high-paced technical action.  It was a training guide for the competitive grappler. If you’re like me, you tune in to events like these not only for entertainment, but as a grappler you watch to see how you can improve your game.  Here are five things I saw from this match that I will be adding into my training.

1) Set The Pace

Tonon makes you tired.  I know this because I have rolled with him.  He sets a high pace and you continuously have to defend submission attempt after submission attempt.  It wears on you and makes it difficult to mount an offense. 

But Tonon doesn’t just throw out attacks with reckless abandon.  He does it while keeping solid position. You didn’t see Tonon in many bad positions, despite aggressively trying for submissions.  In fact, a professional referee friend of mine scored the match 10-4 in favor of Tonon, if points had been involved. 

I get it, neither were worried about points, but it speaks to the fact that Tonon kept great position during the whole match.

2) Scramble, Scramble, Scramble

It’s impossible to talk about this match and not mention the scrambling. Neither were willing to concede bad position. Referee Nick Greene earned his keep corralling these two within the confines of the stage. Scrambling is exciting to watch, but also detrimental to a high level game.  It is what wins you those crucial positions that come down to inches.

But scrambling is hard to drill.  It almost has to be more of a mindset that you adopt in training. One good way to practice scrambling is to lie down next to your partner with their head at your feet and vice versa, while both of you are on your back.  Someone counts to three and you both quickly try to get the best position on the other person. This is a good cool down at the end of some live rolling, where you can reinforce the idea of scrambling.

3) Be Better At Pulling Guard

I couldn’t wait to see what tricks either Tonon or Leon would employ to get to the floor and put the other in a bad position, and they did not disappoint.  Interestingly, they both used the same technique (the guard pull to armbar) at different times.  This is nothing new. It’s a variation of an armbar attempt you would do in a gi except that without a gi, it is a little trickier to pull off.  When both guys attempted this, it landed them in an open half guard position from which they immediately were able to launch other attacks.

People struggle with a good transition from their feet to their guard.  It’s a good idea to have a solid path to the ground and be in a position that gives you an immediate advantage.  The important thing is to have a plan and the guard pull to armbar is a trusted way to kick it off.  

4) Be Better At Wrestling

Leon attempts a body lock takedown against Tonon.
Leon attempts a body lock takedown against Tonon. (Image courtesy of Instagram: @gnarcorpphoto)

One thing is for sure about wrestling with Tonon, you can’t simply hang on to head and arm control while standing. Why? Because he is gonna use a duck under/gator roll that sends you flying. We saw this in his ADCC match against Renato Canuto and now against Leon. Leon was slick with his wrestling too, which neutralized Tonon’s duck-under. These are high-level exchanges.

Gone are the days of lackluster wrestling in BJJ. A lot of Jiu Jitsu players spend so much time on the ground that they neglect time on their feet.  More and more grapplers are becoming exceptional in their wrestling and it is an important component.  But once you are a threat on the feet, you will have more options, be better equipped to tire your opponent and be able to have a say in what position you are battling from once on the ground. Now’s a great time to drill those fundamental ‘head on the inside’ single leg takedowns. 

5) The Lachlan Giles Outside Sankaku

I saw something that informs me of what is going around the BJJ communities (hopefully besides Covid).  Last year, Lachlan Giles submitted three opponents much heavier than him in a crazy ADCC run in the absolute division, only losing to Gordan Ryan.  He is only one of five men at the 77kg division to ever stand on the ADCC absolute podium.  He did it all via heel hook through a position he calls 80/20 to Outside Sankaku.  He then released a DVD series on his leg lock game.  Leon attempted the very same setup that Giles shows in his series that I had not seen anywhere else. Tonon identified and stopped it from progressing (either out of instinct or because he is also familiar with the technique.)  This tells me that this attack is more prevalent now and is probably going to be seen more and more in competition.  If you haven’t checked out the Lachlan Giles Leg Lock Anthology I’d suggest you do.

It’s always fun to watch the high-level guys go at it.  But it’s aIso a chance to watch the sport you love while being educated on its evolution.  It gets me excited to get back on the mats to hone my craft.

Josh Clopton

Josh Clopton is a UFC veteran and Jiu Jitsu black belt. In 2005 he left his job in Tulsa, Okla. and moved to San Francisco to pursue fighting. While trying to break into the UFC, he worked on a commercial crab fishing boat to make ends meet. Josh earned his black belt under Jake Shields in 2016 and now helps train other fighters and has been the chief cornerman in over 20 UFC fights. He teaches at El Nino Training Center and also for companies such as Google, YouTube and LinkedIn. He is an avid reader, writer and outdoorsman.

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