When you are a fighter with a 90 percent knockout ratio, the moniker "Bazooka Joe" won't have anybody conjuring up images in their heads of the famous bubble gum character. Joseph Valtellini earned that title by having an explosive and powerful striking style, reminiscent more so of the army weapon than the iconic Joe with the eye patch featured on all the comics inside the gum wrapper.
The Canadian kickboxer is currently the No.2-ranked Glory welterweight and this weekend he will take on Raymond Daniels in the Glory 13 welterweight tournament in Tokyo, Japan (via tape delay on Spike TV). The opposite bracket of the four-man winner takes all $150,000 tournament features Nieky Holzken vs. Karapet Karapetyan.
Valtellini may have begun his professional career just three years ago, but the first steps he took toward this week's tournament in Japan's capital took place at an incredibly young age. In fact, his parents took him to a Taekwondo school when he was only four years old. The instructor recommended bringing young Joe back when he was seven years old instead. Not wanting his son's interest to wane, Valtellini's father made a makeshift gym inside their home where his son could train.
"As soon as I could walk, I was interested in martial arts," Valtellini told MMAmania recently. "In the meantime my dad decided he was going to set up different things to help me, spark my interest and teach me. Even though he didn't have a martial arts background, he loved martial arts as well.
"He put a pad on the fireplace and the support beam of the house also turned into a pad. My father worked as a mechanic for Toronto ambulance, so he got the padding, the tubes... He actually made the elastic tubing something that I could punch with, tie around my ankles to help with my kicks. So it was all something he created and we just trained here til I was seven. So it was amazing. Even seeing movies where they would break boards... My dad would buy the wood and make me break the boards. So he really sparked my interest from that young age."
Not soon after there was another heavy influence on the growing martial artist: Jean Claude Van Damme.
"I just wanted to re-watch Bloodsport and Kickboxer everyday," Valtellini said. "I had every line memorized from those two movies." He was asked to pick which one is his favorite. "It's tough between the two. I'm always battling between which one is my favorite, but I think I have to go with Bloodsport."
That 1988 classic action movie was filled with unique fighting styles in the kumite tournament that made it so memorable. Seems fitting Valtellini would mention it, because his opponent in the semi-finals, Daniels, is an extremely unorthodox fighter. He is also a very dangerous one, and proves difficult to prepare for.
"It's something where my coach (Paul MInhas) has a lot of experience in offensive martial arts and we put together a good strategy and game plan for Daniels," he said. "We have brought in some unorthodox karate fighters and Tae Kwon Do fighters to try and simulate and kind of prepare me for Daniels. Getting my eyes sharp and seeing different tendencies. But, he's dangerous and I'm really taking this fight very seriously."
If you ask any fighter who is fighting in a tournament, they will all usually give a different answer on how they feel about it, and what their game plan is. Some say you should conserve energy in case you get to the finals, others claim if you don't focus enough on the first fight, there won't be a second. Valtellini said, in his case "It's more of letting the fight happen."
"If you go in there, and to make the mistake of going light in that first fight, it would be a big mistake, and saving yourself, means you are looking past your first opponent," he continued. "For me it's going to be going in there and letting things unfold. Going in there and just kind of being myself. With the strategy and game plan, it's implemented to kind of help with that, but to go light... It's something I'm not going to light for. I'm going in to win, it's just letting the fight unfold."
"Bazooka Joe" is picking up steam in his career and admits that the chance at the Glory welterweight tournament title, $150,000 dollars and chance at becoming the No.1-ranked welterweight has made his camp "a very motivating" one. But, looking back over the past years, the 10-1 fighter had a few big hurdles to climb. One was a football injury at The University of Toronto that could've derailed his fighting career.
"I was a big soccer player growing up," Valtellini explained. "I went to the University and there were no spots available for the soccer team, so a friend in my program said ‘why don't you try picking up a football instead?' I was just a natural at it, so I started kicking and punting for the University team. In my last year-my fifth year, which was my teachers college year, the returner came and I was making a tackle, someone flew in with their helmet and it broke my radius.
"So right away into the hospital, I needed surgery, plate, screws... The first thing I asked was ‘do you think I'd be able to fight again?' because I was still amateur fighting at the time," he continued. "The doctor wasn't really positive at the time, and kind of gave me an answer of he didn't think so. It was kind of a depressing time. Even the return of training again and coming back and the pain... It just hurt... Eventually I just pushed my mind and gained a positive outlook on it and continued to train and push through all the pains and the nagging injuries of it. I fought and won my provincial title after that injury and it was kind of that whole there was an obstacle, and I was able to overcome it, even though I was told I wasn't. That was a big moment in my career and my life."
The next hurdle he had to overcome, was finding professional fights. At the time Muay Thai and Kickboxing were still illegal in Ontario, Canada. Valtellini was forced to travel to the U.S. to get fights. "No one wanted to give me an opportunity to fight professionally," he said. Finally he would land in New York and the Friday Night Fights promotion. He scored a TKO in his debut over Max Chen, and after that his career started to take off.
"From there I took bigger fights, Valtellini said. "My second pro fight I fought Dorian Price from the UFC, who had tons of experience, and I TKO'd him. They just kept giving me bigger and bigger fights and it was just amazing how fast... eventually Glory recognized me and was able to sign me."
Now sitting at 3-0 for Glory, Valtellini said his experience with the promotion has "been nothing but positive," and that being on Spike TV is a "major accomplishment" and it "gives kickboxers recognition" that they previously didn't have.
"Before Glory, there wasn't really much happening," Valtellini said. "I think a lot of us fighters had a lot of pressure to move into MMA, because there wasn't that big international kickboxing organization out there for us. With Glory coming, it's given us that opportunity to stay focused on kickboxing--the actual sport that we love. Glory has done an amazing job promoting itself, especially in North America."
Being able to represent Canada and North America, and being a part of the reason it's growing here, is something that really excites him.
"It's huge for me," he said. "Again, my two main goals in kickboxing are: to be the number one kickboxer and to promote the sport in North America. I feel they go together. Me being ranked number one in the world as a North American, really helps the sport grow here as well. I'm constantly showing people and promoting all Glory events and showing people just how exciting the sport is. And people are really enjoying it."
The 28-year-old martial artist has another successful career aside from kickboxing, he is a High School teacher in Toronto, where he teaches children with special needs and behavioral issues, as well as phys ed. That is something he said he "will always want to keep."
"A lot of people kind of ask what's next for me after fighting because it's such a short career span," he continued. "Right now, it's a job that I love. It's something that I started implementing kickboxing and my love for teaching. So kids in my personal fitness classes are learning how to kickbox and they are learning strength training.
"So it's something that I'm still able to share my passion with kids growing up and I think at the end of the day, the kids that I work with-especially the ones with the behavior problems-they need a positive role model and they need someone to push them in the right direction. That is something that I hope to do for the rest of my life, whether as a teacher, or as a martial artist running a gym."
Valtellini said it's very challenging at times to balance both careers and he doesn't take a lot of time off during the year, but his "school is very supportive," of what he is doing.
"I may vary my intensity of training, but my coach has me learning every single day that I'm in," Valtellini said. "I think that is important that my learning, and my journey as a martial artist never stops. I feel that a lot of athletes in combat sports, they tend to just train during their camps. But I am constantly learning all the time and that has helped me fight all these guys with big experience gaps. So, it's a challenge, but I'm making it work and they're both careers that I really enjoy."
The teacher/fighter will continue to learn on his journey in Tokyo on Saturday night at Glory 13, perhaps North America and the Spike TV viewers will learn more about "Bazooka Joe" when the tournament concludes.