GARRY TONON’S PERSPECTIVE ON ADAPTING LEGLOCKS FOR MMA

“So, with a leglock in MMA, I have to weigh things up along the lines of ‘if I go for this movement and don’t get the finish, what’s the repercussions?’”

Garry Tonon has “achieved mere excellence” in the art of leglocks within submission grappling; he faced – and defeated – many of the top names the sport has to offer. Now, five fights deep in a new era as a mixed martial artist, Tonon has managed to successfully transition his style of grappling into the cage. 

Though his last bout was his first to end via leglock, he has used the setups and transitions successfully in all of his ONE Championship outings. The John Danaher system seems to be working perfectly for the Lion Killer, who’s been taking a more calculated approach to submission hunting in his new setting. 

Speaking with Jiu Jitsu Style, Tonon says: “The easiest way to look at it is via the differentiation in goals, because your goals will determine how you act. With submission grappling it’s a case of submitting the guy without getting submitted – when you break it down and there’s no points structure, it’s that simple. Any isolated discipline you bring into MMA – jiu jitsu, kickboxing or whatever – will have to change when you bring it into the cage. For me, the goal changed from just submitting someone to maybe finishing via TKO or general damage, but this also becomes another factor that must be considered defensively as well. 

“So, with a leglock in MMA, I have to weigh things up along the lines of ‘if I go for this movement and don’t get the finish, what’s the repercussions?’ Do I give up positional advantage or leave myself open for strikes? That’s the big change from jiu jitsu. That said, it’s not like we sit down and have a set of leglocks for MMA and a set for submission grappling; it’s more a case of adjusting your goals and consciously asking ‘can I get hit from here or will I lose position’ before engaging a position.

“A good example of making adjustments would be in my fight with Rahul Raju. I got criticism for not submitting him with a heel hook, but people don’t realise that you just don’t have the same amount of time and freedom to make the adjustments for breaking positions as you would in submission grappling. One of the adjustments I did in that fight was that I crossed my legs in a particular was so that after I had tried to break him – or successfully break him I guess – I could use that to create space so he couldn’t create damage and as he turned I could escape on top.”  

Tonon’s flying start within the ONE Championship organisation has been a sight to behold, and such a dominant start to his career is, perhaps, a shock to all. He’s taken literally no damage in finishing all of his fights via submission or TKO, and the journey has gifted Garry a newfound love for the world of the 4oz glove.

“I do find I’m loving it more and more with every fight,” says Tonon on mixed martial arts. “When I started out I only had the experience of sparring, but no exposure to putting on the little gloves and actually fighting. That’s a very different experience than the actual training, so it wasn’t until I had my first fight that I could really say ‘man, I love this’. There’s an immense satisfaction involved with the whole process of working so hard in training and then going out there to fight on a big stage under circumstances of extreme adversity. The stakes are so much higher in MMA, so when you win it just feels better – it’s so different than anything else I’ve ever done in my life. 

“The one thing I will say – and I always do when people ask me – is that you’re talking to a man who only has a winning perspective right now. I’m yet to lose, but also yet to face real adversity in the fight; I’ve not been knocked down three times and had to come back from the brink of defeat. Hopefully that never changes, but maybe my opinion would change after being viciously KO’d in front of my friends and family (laughs).” 

Given his run of success, you could forgive Tonon for feeling he’s already arrived as a fighter. His level-headed approach and determination to improve are assuring signs, as the life of a mixed martial artist is littered with tremendous highs and lows. However, Garry’s refreshing approach to self-development – paired with an unrivalled commitment to the sport – install a belief that he can head straight to the top of the featherweight division. 

“I think getting started with anything new has an appeal, but there’s always struggles associated with that – especially martial arts and specifically a martial art involving striking,’ says Tonon on his constant development in the arts. In my opinion, if you want to get good and you’re going about it the right way, you’re doing a lot of sparring. There are repercussions from getting punched in the head and that can all lead to a rough start.

“The other thing is that I have come from another martial art where I have achieved mere excellence. Because I understand what excellence is in one martial art (jiu jitsu), when I approach MMA – and start to perform movements or spar – I kind of have excellence in the back of my mind as what I expect from myself. Obviously it’s hard to achieve excellence in a short period of time.

“My perspective on it, my experience, is that it’s a little harder coming into a new martial art with experience in another discipline than it is coming in with no previous experience at all. If you come in with no experience you probably wouldn’t be expecting excellence straight off the bat. I think this is another reason why in the early stages of things – and even now – it can be a little rough for me when I’m trying to learn a new skill and I know it is going to take time to master.”

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