Meet the Fighter: Joseph Valtellini
Published on May 7, 2013 by
When Joe ‘Bazooka’ Valtellini was announced as Murat Direkci’s opponent for GLORY 6 ISTANBUL earlier this year, very few people expected to see him win. Valtellini had a record of 7-1 going into the fight while Direkci’s record stood at 68-15.
But the Canadian prospect believed in himself and he showed himself to be more than a match for the Turkish-Belgian veteran, stopping him in the third round. Of his eight career wins, seven have now been by way of stoppage inside the distance. No wonder his nickname is ‘Bazooka’.
“When the email came in I was like ‘OK, this is a tough fight but a big opportunity. He has a big record and a big name but at the same time he is a bit older now and he has only just come back from retirement,’” Valtellini says as he recalls getting the offer to fight Direkci.
“We put a gameplan together and it worked really well. I wanted to really show people who I was. At this big pre-fight press conference I was sitting there and I’ve got two of the world’s top heavyweight kickboxers sitting next to me, Saki and Ghita, plus a big name in Direkci.
“And I was thinking, ‘I bet people feel like I don’t belong here.’ I knew that I belonged there but I don’t think they did. And so I was really resolved to make sure and show them on fight night that I do belong here. I thought, ‘Next time I’m sitting at a press conference like this, I want you to know who I am.’
The name ‘Bazooka’ came around early in Valtellini’s training, thanks to his fondness for throwing big power into every punch. The roots of that power lie in his childhood, spent in a close-knit family home with parents “who supported me 100 per cent in everything I wanted to do”.
The Valtellini family live in Scarborough, once a separate city to the east of Toronto but now part of its suburbs after being swallowed up by the larger city’s sprawl. Scarborough has an unenviable reputation in the Toronto region, with media often nicknaming it ‘Scarlem’ in reference to the crime-ridden New York borough of Harlem.
Valtellini doesn’t agree. Parts of Scarborough - population 650,000 - might have issues but his own upbringing was no better or worse than anywhere else. “Its just a regular neighborhood I guess. Its not too bad and its not too high class. But there’s nothing hard or ghetto about where I am from, its just a regular place,” he shrugs.
One thing Scarborough does have is a long history of immigration, including a large Italian population. As the surname suggests, this is where Valtellini’s own heritage lies. He and his siblings are all first-generation, children of Sicilians who left their homeland in search of a better life in Canada.
“They are from the southern tip of Sicily, a place called Pachino, so I’m 100 per cent Sicilian blood. Although actually they only met for the first time in Canada, they didn’t know each other before they came here,” Valtellini explains.
He grew up in a traditional Italian household, with a strong emphasis on family values. His parents are still together and he is still close with his three siblings, all of them older sisters. Valtellini’s father was instrumental in starting him on the life-path which has brought him to the GLORY ring.
“Our basement was basically made into an area for kicking things. He set some pads up and stuff for me to kick and he rigged up some elastic bands to add resistance to my legs when I was kicking, things like that. He was actually doing that well before those kind of things were on the market,” the soft-spoken knockout artist reveals.
“And that was before I took up Tae Kwon Do, which I started around age 7. I was obsessed with martial arts and Van Damme movies like Kickboxer. I played a lot of different sports growing up, I played soccer at a quite a high level in Ontario. But martial arts and kickboxing was always the first love.”
Tae Kwon Do kept Valtellini occupied for several years but in his adolescent years he became frustrated with the lack of hard sparring. He moved on, looking for “contact and more realism”. A year on the mats convinced him that jiu jitsu was not the answer, before he found Muay Thai. He now trains under Paul Minhas, who also coached Gary Goodridge when the heavyweight was a big name in Japan.
A lot of kickboxers have a background in Muay Thai but the art really has to be adapted for success in the kickboxing ring. Traditional Muay Thai is slower-paced than kickboxing and much more rigid; there is not as much emphasis on footwork and head movement, and punches don’t score many points.
Because Valtellini trained under Minhas, a coach who had experienced the Japanese circuit when K-1 was in its heyday, he feels he has benefited by being trained in a kickboxing-oriented style from the outset.
“He was able to train with and study some of the top kickboxing coaches of the time and he has so much experience, he has so much still to teach me. He is always feeding me knowledge and even after nine years I am still learning so much in the gym,” he says.
“And so when people were like, ‘How can you fight Murat Direkci when he has over ninety fights and you have eight?’, a lot of it comes down to my coach building this experience into our training. I don’t need that ring experience, he is bringing that into our training from day one.
“Another thing I do which I think some of these other fighters aren’t doing is, I take a well-rounded approach to my training. I still work full time so it’s a case of training smarter rather than overdoing it. I do strength and conditioning work with Costa Kladianos in Toronto, he makes sure I’m the stronger guy in the fight. I think those two things together really make a big difference.”
‘Physical Education’ is the nature of Valtellini’s full-time job. He works at a special-needs school and has been able to work some kickboxing in the program.
“Its very good for them; a lot of these kids have a lot of frustration and a lot of anger management issues which kickboxing helps them release. I can relate to that; I had a lot of the same issues when I was a kid,” he explains.
“I couldn’t stand to lose at anything and I got frustrated easily. I was always arguing with my siblings. I think kickboxing and martial arts really helped me with that and I think its important that I try and give something back in the same way, by sharing it with other kids who can benefit from it.”
Valtellini’s pupils and fellow teachers follow his fight career closely. Much of it has been spent in New York, a one-hour drive away. On June 22, Valtellini will make his return to New York at last, this time as part of the big show he always dreamed of fighting on.
“Its like a second home to me. The people who will turn up to support me at GLORY 9 will be the same people who first turned out to support me back when I was starting out and it means a lot to me to be able to fight on a big show like this in front of them. Its extra-special for me,” he says.
“North America never offered the opportunity to fight in kickboxing at this level so I’m really excited about GLORY. I think that it has huge potential in the US market. There are a lot of fight fans over here and once they are exposed to it on TV and they start to understand what it is, its really going to take off.
“Lots and lots of people have told me that when they’ve watched a kickboxing show for the first time they have found it much more exciting than MMA. So I think people are really going to get into it.”
New York native Francois Ambang, winner of the recent Road to Glory tournament in New York, will be the evening’s opponent. Valtellini is confident of a good fight and another win. He isn’t overlooking Ambang, but he wants the rest of the lightweight division to know he is coming.
“Ambang looks good, I watched him in Road to Glory and my coach has watched a few of his other fights. He is a dangerous opponent for sure. I think his style kind of plays into mine well and I think we are going to have a really good hard fight. I am excited for sure.
“After that? Well, they have me at number eight in the GLORY world rankings and I want to be world number one, so there’s seven names between me and that top spot right now. I want that number one spot - and I will do whatever it takes to get it.”