It’s been a hectic week for the Fight to Win Pro team. In addition to having to get ready for two back-to-back events in different states this Friday and Saturday, they also had to deal with a lot of last-minute changes to their highly anticipated Fight to Win Pro 24 event in Huntington Beach, California.
After slated main event fighter DJ Jackson had to pull out of his fight with Edwin Najmi, he was replaced with F2W veteran Nathan Mendelsohn. But then, just a few days later, AJ Agazarm’s opponent, Bill Cooper, injured his hand in a bike accident and had to withdraw from the card. Agazarm made a post online calling forth any potential opponents who might want a last-minute match with him on Friday. Gordon Ryan seemed to be the most popular choice among fans, and he personally offered to drop fifteen pounds and fly out to take the fight, but because Agazarm was insistent on competing in the gi, nothing came out of it.
It was at that point that Ryan’s teammate Garry Tonon entered the conversation and offered to compete against Agazarm in the gi. It was a bold move — Tonon was already scheduled to fight Agazarm’s teammate Gabriel Arges in a no-gi title fight, and taking a second match would make him the first competitor in Fight to Win history to have two fights on the main card in the same night. Still, both Tonon and Fight to Win CEO Seth Daniels were ready to make it happen.
But then, of course, something else went wrong.
The very same day that Cooper pulled out of the event, Arges injured his knee while training. With Tonon and Agazarm left without opponents, Daniels said that “it just made sense” to pair them up.
The match-up draws an interesting parallel to the last time Agazarm competed at F2W, when he was famously kicked off the stage by his opponent, Vagner Rocha. It goes without saying that the two weren’t exactly best friends, and Agazarm and Tonon also have a bit of bad blood between them (although Daniels made it very clear after Agazarm’s last F2W match that Rocha-esque behavior will be met with immediate disqualification). The two have exchanged verbal jabs online over the past couple of days, and Daniels said that Tonon asked him if he could fight blindfolded, wearing a pirate patch, or with his arms tied in his belt.
“We are not allowing him to use props,” said Daniels, “but as far as what else, who knows what he’s going to do?”
This fight is going to be particularly noteworthy because both Agazarm and Tonon have far more achievements competing in no-gi than in the gi. It was Agazarm who originally insisted that the match take place in a gi, and Tonon didn’t even attempt to persuade him otherwise.
“Garry is out to prove that he can beat AJ under any rule set,” said Daniels. “I do think Garry is underestimating him, but then again, it’s Garry Tonon — he’s a bad motherf***er.”
Honestly, to underestimate either fighter would be a huge mistake. Both Tonon and Agazarm are household names in the BJJ industry thanks to the many prestigious achievements they’ve accumulated over the years. However, both fighters suffered losses last week at Submission Underground 3, and it’s safe to say that a victory at such a highly anticipated event now has even more appeal than it might have had just a week ago.
Whether you’re a fan of AJ “The Lion” Agazarm, Garry “The Lion Killer” Tonon, or just professional jiu-jitsu as a whole, this development just solidifies Fight to Win Pro 24 as a can’t-miss event. “As a fan, I’m excited to see Garry in the gi. We’ll see if he bit off more than he can chew — AJ is a legit black belt world champion,” said Daniels. “Regardless, there’s no bitchassness here. These guys took a major opponent switch on twenty-four hours’ notice.”
Now that the dust has settled, the revised main card will see AJ Agazarm and Garry Tonon fighting in gis for the main event. ADCC veteran and Atos prodigy Mikey Perez will replace Jeff Monson for the no-gi title fight against Joao Assis, and Edwin Najmi and Nathan Mendelsohn will be competing for the gi title.
Despite all the chaos that plagued the main card this week, Daniels’ hard work and various athletes’ willingness to roll with the punches have managed to keep Fight to Win 24 among the most hyped events in the past few months and likely the next few months. All that remains to be seen now is which fighters will walk off the stage with newly earned bragging rights.
The headline should just be “Garry Tonon competes in Gi”.. Smart move, I’m sold!