When you think of famous North American strikers, who comes to mind? Up until very recently, that answer may have given you a bit of head scratching. But in the past few years the Canada has produced some of the best stand-up martial artists in the game today, whether it be world ranked #1 Simon Marcus, training partner and rising sensation Matt Embree, or GLORY 65 kg tournament contender Gabriel Varga, the land of the maple leaf is full of strong fighters.
One of the best and brightest of these new stars is none other than “Bazooka” Joe Valtellini. Joe made his GLORY kickboxing debut in Istanbul where he took on the veteran Murat Dureski, and surprisingly pummelled his opponent until he was forced to throw in the towel.
Valtellini is now set to compete on GLORY 9 in New York against Road to Glory winner Francois Ambang. We sat down with Joe to get an in-depth look at who he was, and what he’ll be fighting for come June 22.
Fight Sport Asia: To start off, could you tell us a little about how you first got into combat sports? What was your first dojo/gym?
Joe Valtellni: I started training in martial arts from a young age. From when I could stand, my father was teaching me the basics. He would make different training tools for me to practice on. While most kids were watching cartoons, I was memorizing lines from Bloodsport, Kickboxer and Rocky. Finally when I was 7, my parents signed me up to a local Tae Kwon Do gym called Ki Do Kwan run by Master Roy Sullivan. I was able to get my black belt at 10 years old and my second degree at 14. Also at 14, I started
experimenting with Jiu jitsu for about a year. But it wasn’t until I was 19 that I found muay Thai/kickboxing with my coach Paul Minhas at Ultimate Martial Arts.
When I was competing in my early Taekwon-do days, I was addicted to training and competing. I would train everyday and did whatever it took to win. I became addicted to the training and the feeling of being successful after dedicating myself. It was from that early age, I knew I wanted to become a professional athlete.
FSA: Were your parents supportive of the fighting lifestyle?
JV: My parents were always very supportive. They would have been supportive with anything that I would have chosen as a hobby. But my mother still wishes that I would have picked something other than fighting. I don’t think my parents missed one of my training sessions or tournaments growing up. I remember losing my first TKD tournament match as a yellow belt and crying because I felt like I let my parents down and they spent all this money for me to compete.
Even when I played competitive soccer from when I was 10-18 or when I played football with the University of Toronto, they made it to every game. Still to this day they play a huge part in training and life.
FSA: What was the biggest moment in your pre-professional career?
JV: A huge part in my pre-professional career was breaking my arm playing football and having to get surgery.I remember being emotional in the emergency hospital bed when the doctor said I wouldn’t be able to fight again. But I made sure to prove him wrong and continue to train. After many painful and frustrated days at the gym I decided to fight for a provincial amateur title. I always dreamt about winning my own title
and belt. After winning, I actually slept with that title for a week because it meant so much to me.
FSA: When you’re not training, what are you doing with your free time?
JV: Working as a teacher and training full time, doesn’t really give me a lot of free time. I train all year round. My coach Paul Minhas keeps me learning and improving even when I don’t have a fight booked. Having a lot less experience than my opponents, I need to keep gaining experience and improving in the gym.
But when I do have some free time, I like to spend as much time possible hanging out with friends and family.
FSA: Who are some of your inspirations in the sport?
JV: Some of my inspirations in the sport would be Ramon Dekker and Ernesto Hoost. Both of those Fighters were exciting to watch have done such amazing things for the sport. One of the biggest compliments that I have received in my fighting career was being told I fight like Ramon Dekkers.
FSA: Not too long ago you were competing at Friday Night Fights. Tell us a little about that experience? What was memorable about FNF?
JV: Being from Ontario where professional Muay Thai is still illegal, it was very difficult to get pro fights. Justin Blair from FNF was kind enough to bring me down and give me an opportunity to make my pro debut. I had my first 6 professional fights with FNF.
My best FNF experience would be my fight against Shawn Yarborough. I can still play back the feeling and reaction that the crowd gave me after my first round KO. New York and the FNF staff and fans really made me feel at home.
FSA: Before GLORY, most mainstream fans were introduced to you at LionFight against Gregory Choplin. What was it like being in the ring with a very high level international opponent like that? What did you take from that fight?
JV: Choplin was the first international opponent I fought and at the time, the biggest gap between our records. It wasn’t my best fight, but it did give me the confidence and motivation to keep fighting international opponents with more experience.
FSA: Did you know much about kickboxing before you were contacted by GLORY?
JV: My coach Paul Minhas has a lot of kickboxing experience as a fighter and coach. He coached Gary Goodridge and other fighters in K-1 and Pride. So when I first met my coach 9 years ago, he trained me from day one to compete in high level kickboxing. We both shared the dream and focused our minds on getting to and fighting the best kickboxers in the world.
FSA: How did you make the transition from Muay Thai to kickboxing so smoothly? A lot of people have trouble without elbows and a clinch game, but you seemed to adjust very well.
JV: Fighting at the highest kickboxing level has been my goals from when I started. I never back away from a challenge, and fighting Muay Thai was a good way to learn and improve as an overall martial artist.
FSA: Walk us through your fight with Murat Durekci. What was your game plan going in?
JV: really came out aggressively throwing heavy punches. I was able to block most of them. With just over a minute left in the first round I dropped him with an upper cut -hook. It wasn’t until round 2 that I really found my distance and was able to start landing my combinations. I dropped him again with a high kick as well as a low kick to end round 2. I started round 3 with some heavy combinations and Murat’s corner threw in the towel.
I don’t really create game plans. My coach prepares me for any type of battle, and to allow my techniques to unfold in the ring. He doesn’t believe in limiting my mind and techniques with a specific strategy.
FSA: How did it feel to compete in a stage like Istanbul? Did you have any pre-fight jitters?
JV: It was a dream competing at that stage in Istanbul. It still hasn’t set in, and I continually have to re-watch the fight to believe it. From the pre and post fight conferences, to walking down the red carpet to the ring and beating a legend in the sport by TKO was just an experience I will remember forever.
I didn’t really have any pre fight jitters. I knew my team and I prepared well physically and mentally. Most importantly I had a lot of people around me believing in me and giving the confidence I needed. I believe so much in my coach that I was confident he has given me the knowledge and skill set I needed to be successful.
FSA: Your next upcoming fight is against Francois Ambang at GLORY 9 New York. Tell us a bit about how it feels to be on one of the first big Kickboxing shows in North America?
JV: I’m very excited to be part of the Glory 9 NYC card. I’m also excited to be fighting again in NYC. My first 6 professional fights were there, and I have made many friends and supporters during that time. I look at New York as my home town for fighting because professional Muay Thai and Kickboxing are still illegal in Toronto.
Before the Road to Glory NYC I never heard of Francois. But after doing some research, he is a dangerous opponent who has experience in a few combat sports. However, I feel I’m more technical and have more
power, and my hand will be raised that night. My training camp has been going amazing so far, and I cant wait for June 22nd.
FSA: You’re one of the first recent North American fighters to have major kickboxing success in GLORY. What does that mean to you?
JV: That means a lot. North America was so many talented fights from all over. I was really happy to be able to put on a good performance and represent North America. I’m positive now that Kickboxing is growing in popularity in North America, we will start seeing more people focusing just on kickboxing. It’s a sport that has a lot of action, heavy hitting and lots of KO’s, so I’m sure once martial arts fans have a chance to see high level kickboxing, it will grow in N.A. It’s just a matter of time.
FSA: A lot of North American fighters are struggling in kickboxing. What do you think makes you different from some of the others that have tried and haven’t had much luck?
JV: I’m guessing that a lot of North American fighters have been focusing a lot of their training on traditional Muay Thai. Which compared to kickboxing is quite different. The 3 rounds, shorter feel out process, higher volume and no clinch can be difficult for someone who hasn’t trained that style before.
FSA: Who would you like to fight next at 70kg?
JV: There is no one in particular I would like to fight. I just want to keep working my way up the Glory and world rankings.
FSA: Would you like to say something to your fans?
JV: Thanks everyone for all the support. I was blown away from all the support everyone showed before and after my last fight. It means a lot to me.
I’d like to give a huge thanks to my coach Paul Minhas who has prepared me for 9 years for this. He has given me the knowledge, skill set and confidence to be able to compete at this level while
only having 9 professional fights. My main training partners Troy Sheridan and Matt Speciale. My strength coach and best friend Costa Kladianos at Tempus Performance for always making sure I’m stronger and more
explosive than my opponents. Last but not least my family, team at Ultimate Martial Arts, and all my friends. Can’t thank everyone enough. To follow my career, make sure to add me on Facebook or follow on twitter @bazookajoev