As a youngster, Garry Tonon spent much of his life looking up at his classmates. The young American was one of the smallest kids in his school year, and it led to him being on the receiving end of bullying and abuse.
While it was a thoroughly unpleasant experience for young Tonon, it helped shape him into the man he is today.
“I was always a step behind in terms of size and maturity. I was an easy target for that sort of thing,” said the 26-year-old New Yorker. “But it was not like I was picked on, and did not do anything or say anything about it.
“If somebody tried to pick on me, I would always stand up for myself. It would not always work, but I would always stand up for myself, and most times, I would fend people off.
“That kind of bullying culture, to a certain degree, helped me become stronger mentally. It helped me to learn to stand up for myself, and not take anything from anybody.”
Tonon was raised by his mother, who worked with children with special needs. That led him to become more protective of others.
“Being raised by my mother, I adapted a more non-confrontational attitude,” he explained.
“I did not look for conflict. She worked with special needs kids, so I spent most of my life helping people who were not in the best circumstances. My nature was more to help someone who was not doing so well, as opposed to starting conflict with somebody.”
Tonon’s athletic endeavours started when he began wrestling, where he learned that without determination and persistence, the battle is already lost.
“It is a rough and tumble sport. It is not a sport for weak-minded individuals. They cannot survive that. It can build you up to become a stronger person, but at the same time, if you do not get built up, you will quit,” he explained.
“A lot of alphas tend to stick around, and those are the experienced guys. When a lot of alpha males get together, bullying just ensues. That is just what happens. They are jockeying for position. It happens in primates as well.”
It’s a tough, unforgiving environment, but Tonon adapted to it swiftly, and eventually discovered the discipline that would change his life – Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
“I was doing wrestling at the time, but had never even heard of this sport until one of my friends, who was doing wrestling at age 14, started to do jiu-jitsu, and he was telling me about it,” said Tonon.
“At first, I did not even believe him. He was like, ‘It’s kind of like wrestling, except we try to choke each other.’ And I’m like, ‘That’s crazy! That’s not real!’ I thought it was professional wrestling. I figured nobody would let kids do that to each other.
“So he invited me to a competition. I went, and I was like, ‘This is so cool.’ After that, he started showing me videos and all sorts of things, and I became more immersed in that culture.”
The rest, as they say, is history. Tonon rose through the ranks to become one of the most respected and feared grapplers in the world.
Now, having mastered the mats, he’s attacking a new challenge, as he steps into the cage under full ONE rules for the very first time against Richard “Notorious” Corminal at ONE: IRON WILL in Bangkok.
If he takes to the cage as well as he took to the mats, watch out. “The Lion Killer” could rapidly become a serious threat in ONE Championship.