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Garry Tonon excited to test grappling against 'cutting edge' skills of teen phenom Tye Ruotolo

The jiu-jitsu pioneer will battle the 19-year-old phenom in an intriguing submission grappling bout on May 20 at ONE 157.

Garry Tonon's tenure in the ONE Championship circle is about to come full circle with his submission grappling match against Tye Ruotolo on May 20.

After challenging for the ONE featherweight world title in MMA, the American star will return to his roots and welcome the 19-year-old Brazilian jiu-jitsu phenom to the organization on the main card of "ONE 157: Petchmorakot vs. Vienot."

"The Lion Killer" is a pioneering force in the grappling world who helped pave the way for the sport to grow.

He competed in ONE's first-ever submission grappling bout against Shinya Aoki in 2017, and he's happy to jump on board now that the promotion has brought those competitions back into the fold.

"The truth is (grappling is) what I've been doing my whole career," Tonon said. "I don't say that to brag or boast or anything like that. It's just how it’s been. When I started professional grappling, it wasn't even really a thing. It was just starting. I think that the work that I did and the type of matches that I had helped put it on the map. And my experiences with ONE only furthered that. 

"It's been years since that match (against Aoki), but that's how I got my foot in the door. And I'm glad that now, (ONE is) finally really implementing it and making it a big part of their (events). It's an exciting thing, and it's raising the level of our sport.”

Following ONE's recent announcement of a five-year broadcast deal with Prime Video, Tonon knows there will be more opportunities to elevate submission grappling by getting the sport in front of more eyeballs and putting together high-profile matches.

However, he also believes the onus will be on his peers to win over fans and prove that ground-based combat can match the thrills of MMA, muay Thai, and kickboxing.

"It's going to come down to two things: (ONE's) ambition with what they want to do with grappling, and what grappling brings to the table," Tonon said. "It's going to be very much up to us as athletes that are competing to really make this a big show. If they come in and compete and it's not exciting, eventually, this is going to end. It's up to us as athletes to make sure that this opportunity sticks around."

Tonon expects difficult match against Ruotolo

For Tonon, putting on action-packed bouts is standard practice, and although their grappling styles are different, Ruotolo is cut from the same cloth. 

The 19-year-old Californian has the relentless energy of a teenager, the experience of a veteran, and the motivation to put on a show in the biggest match of his career. He's already claimed titles at several renowned events and became the youngest person in history to reach the ADCC semifinals back in 2019.

With all that in mind, Tonon can't wait to take on the burgeoning superstar at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.

"I think they're very good, both him and the brother," Tonon said. "I look at this as a very difficult challenge. And I truly do believe that Tye and Kade (who will face Aoki at ONE 157) are at the highest level, or are approaching the highest level, of the sport right now as up-and-comers. 

"I think they're two of the toughest guys in their respective divisions, so it's a really exciting opportunity for me to be able to compete against essentially the newer generation of tough grapplers coming up."

Above all, "The Lion Killer" can't wait to see how this battle of generations will play out.

The 30-year-old was at the tip of the spear when he rose through the ranks himself, and now Ruotolo – 11 years his junior – is at the same stage.

And just like Tonon was a step ahead of his rivals, he knows the rising stars are armed with the latest knowledge of grappling – along with all the desire and hunger that youthful athletes possess. 

"With Tye and Kade, they're on the cutting edge of everything that's been going on in jiu-jitsu now," he added. "These guys have been practicing those things, and when you're a little bit younger, it's a little easier for you to adapt. I think these guys have adapted to the level of jiu-jitsu and the quality of jiu-jitsu that exists today, which maybe some of my other opponents from my generation hadn’t. 

"That makes it a much different matchup and a much more difficult matchup because I'm going to be competing against jiu-jitsu in the current era, comparative to competing against jiu-jitsu from my era, which I think was on a different level."

This story first published at ONEFC.com.