GLORY 13: 'Bazooka Joe' Valtellini ready to convert jaded MMA fans to the exciting world of kickboxing

GLORY

"I'm a martial artist first and fighter second. I train all year round, not just for a fight. I go into the gym and better myself. I want to keep learning, that's why we're here on earth, to be passionate about something and learn as much as we can about it. That's what kickboxing is for me." --"Bazooka Joe" Valtellini

By day, Joseph Valtellini is a special needs teacher in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. By night, he's "Bazooka Joe," a fast-rising prospect in the world of kickboxing who has made a mockery of the GLORY welterweight division in less than a year.

Three straight wins, three straight technical knockouts.

"I'm shocked at how quickly things are unfolding," Valtellini told MMAmania.com. "But it's going fast because GLORY is such a good brand and kickboxing is such a good sport. There are a lot of casual sports fans tuning into combat sports and it's the perfect time and opportunity for people to come and watch."

Indeed.

Spike TV jumped in with both feet earlier this year with its surprise announcement that it had signed a multi-year partnership with GLORY Sports International (GSI). The Viacom-owned network already features mixed martial arts (MMA) programming under the Bellator banner and looks to get in on the ground floor with kickboxing's return to North America.

A place ruled by Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), currently the undisputed champion of combat sports.

That of course begs the question, as to why Valtellini, 28, didn't parlay his background in Muay Thai into something as lucrative as MMA. After all, there happens to be another young Canadian, who like "Bazooka Joe," is soft-spoken, humble and undeniably good looking.

His name is Georges St-Pierre, and he's a multimillionaire.

"Even early on, there was pressure to go into MMA," Valtellini explained. "Where I'm from in Ontario, kickboxing and Muay Thai were illegal, so I couldn't compete at home. But once MMA became legal, there was pressure to make the switch, but I've always had a love and passion for stand-up fighting."

"International kickboxing was my dream and my love, he continued. "But before GLORY, there weren't as many opportunities outside of MMA. Now that GLORY is here, I can follow my true love and passion."

Chasing his dream has led him to the birthplace of combat sports.

On Dec. 21, 2013, Valtellini will try to outlast three other hungry kickboxers to capture the GLORY 13 Welterweight Championship Tournament -- as well as a whopping $150,000 grand prize -- at the famed Ariake Coliseum in Tokyo, Japan.

Standing in his way is decorated karateka Raymond Daniels, a late replacement for Marc de Bonte.

"Nothing too crazy has changed on my side of things," said Valtellini, on news that original opponent, Karapet Karapetyan, had switched places with Daniels. "I wasn't sure what happened or why, but my focus and strategy changed. He's unorthodox and uses his point fighting a lot. He's definitely taken his karate to a higher level, but at the end of the day, it's kickboxing, not point fighting."

An opening round win on Saturday night would pit him against the victor of the Karapetyan vs. Nieky Holzken slugfest, or perhaps the winner of the Karim Ghajji vs. Aleksandr Stetcurenko reserve bout, should someone in the tournament be unable to continue. But "Bazooka Joe" promises an exciting night of fights, either way.

Even for stubborn MMA fans.

"Just see it and you'll get hooked," Valtellini insists. "There are a lot of casual sports fans tuning into combat sports and it's the perfect time for people to come and watch. I think right now a lot of people are still sucked into the MMA culture and they are fans of a brand rather than the sport."

"Fans who appreciate the sport for what it is are the ones who are coming over," he continued. "Those who dislike the ground game will get hooked, It may take a while, but it's just a matter of time."

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