Features

An Underdog All His Life, Josh Tonna Won’t Quit On Biggest Dream

Oct 2, 2020

Josh “Timebomb” Tonna is one week away from the biggest night of his life.

On Friday, 9 October, the Australian underdog will challenge dominant two-sport ONE World Champion Sam-A Gaiyanghadao for the ONE Strawweight Muay Thai World Title at ONE: REIGN OF DYNASTIES.

The 32-year-old Tonna understands the sheer magnitude of this World Title opportunity. A victory would completely change his life, benefit a community in his homeland, and inspire others around the globe.

Before “Timebomb” attempts to detonate on the global stage, learn more about the winding journey that’s put him on the cusp of accomplishing the seemingly impossible.

A Childhood Soccer Dream

Australian Muay Tha fighter and kickboxer Josh Tonna makes his entrance

Tonna was born and raised in Canberra, Australia, where he came from a broken home. His parents divorced when he was just a year old, and both of them soon remarried.

However, all of that change didn’t faze the young Aussie, who primarily lived with his mother.

“It seemed normal to me,” he says.

“I would go see my dad once a week at my grandparents’ [house] for dinner and then spend every other weekend with him wherever he was living – he moved around town a lot. But that was just normal.”

Tonna was quite close with his parents, his stepparents, and especially his cousin Adam, who was five years older. In fact, Adam was a tremendous soccer player who left Australia to showcase his skills in England.

That birthed Tonna’s first childhood dream.

“My cousin played really high-level soccer, and I always wanted to be a soccer player,” he says.

“The first time I had taken an interest was when he was going over for a trial with Southampton. He went to England for a big trial, and I remember seeing him off at the airport and thinking, ‘Man, I’d love to be a soccer player.’

“I really loved Manchester United, so when he went over to England, I was like, ‘That’s what I want to do.'”

Getting His Blink-182 On

Before Josh Tonna was a fighter

By the time he entered high school, Tonna’s soccer dream had fizzled out and was replaced by another one: being a rockstar.

The teen was a huge fan of American band Blink-182, and when he was 15 years old, Tonna and some friends went to see the pop-punk outfit in Canberra. It was his first live concert, and what made it extra special was a chance encounter with his idol – the band’s guitarist and co-lead singer, Tom DeLonge.

“He was [in the crowd] just watching one of the other bands play, so I met him and was so jacked,” Tonna recalls. “We walked home from the concert, and it was like 15 or 20 kilometers away. It was a long way – it took us three hours to get home, but we were so pumped.”

That meeting inspired Tonna to form a band with his friends. The group was called Saving Tomorrow, a name that fit right in with the emo groups of the early 2000s. Their music attempted to blend the sugary melodies of Blink-182 with the edgier post-hardcore sounds of Story Of The Year.

Saving Tomorrow experienced some local success, as they performed in bars around town and covered songs like Story Of The Year’s “And The Hero Will Drown.” Tonna, who played guitar, was having fun with his friends and felt like he was going somewhere with the music.

But after a year and a half, “Timebomb” was ousted from the very band he helped form.

“I went on a holiday,” he begins. “I remember coming back and they kept practicing, and they just said, ‘Oh, we don’t have enough room for you anymore,’ so they sorta kicked me out. I was a bit heartbroken because I started it with my mate.”

With that, Tonna put down his guitar for good, but an even bigger dream was right around the corner.

‘Never Been More Scared In My Life’

Australian Muay Thai fighter Josh Tonna stands in the corner

When Tonna was 17, he tagged along with some friends and attended a formal after-party. The gathering had nearly 100 kids and it was rowdy – so rowdy, in fact, that fights were breaking out every 10 minutes.

Eventually, Tonna himself became the target of a bully.

“There was this one lunatic who picked on me, and I had never been in a fight before. He was just pushing me, and I hated it. I was so scared,” he recalls.

“There was a girl nearby, so I hid behind her. I tried to get her to break it up, and she calmed him down. There were a few other people who calmed him down, and then he apologized. But about 15 minutes later, he did it again – he picked on me and pushed me. I left not long after that.

“I was terrified, man. I have never been more scared in my life.”

The very next day, Tonna visited his father at the nightclub where he worked as a bouncer and relayed the episode to him. The family patriarch suggested that his son learn self-defense and introduced him to his pal John Verran, a Muay Thai and kickboxing coach who just so happened to be at the club.

Although the young Aussie was interested, he didn’t visit Verran’s Bulldog Gym until six months later. Once he did, however, he fell in love.

“I went with my friend and loved it so much. I was buzzing,” Tonna says.

“My friend hurt himself or he didn’t really find it that interesting. He didn’t come the next day, so I sat nervously in the car parking lot, wondering if I wanted to still do it because I had no one to train with. But I built up the courage and went in, made a friend, and trained with that person for six months.”

Eventually, Tonna also became friends with future Kickboxing World Champion Ben Edwards, and after seeing him compete in the ring, he wanted to emulate that career path and become a professional fighter.

So in late 2006, just six months after his first training session, “Timebomb” made his debut and instantly felt overmatched. Not only was he 10 inches (about 25 centimeters) shorter than his opponent, but he also barely weighed enough to enter the division – in fact, he made weight by wearing his clothes and putting stuff in his pockets.

“I remember [my opponent] walking by. He was smiling at his trainer and he looked like he thought I was going to be a walkover,” Tonna begins.

“I remember seeing him in the ring, thinking he was really tall. I looked at his shins, thinking, ‘This is going to really hurt.’ But I was possessed [during the fight]. I was actually running at him in the ring, trying to kill him. I knocked him down once every round, but we ended up going to a decision.”

That victory earned Tonna his famed nickname – “Timebomb” – from Edwards and set him on the road to glory.



Heartbreaks

In 2009, Tonna was still building up his Muay Thai skills and competing in the local circuit with the hopes of getting an invite to the legendary K-1 organization.

But tragedy struck that February.

“Timebomb” was at a tattoo parlor looking to add some fresh ink to his flesh when he received a call from his father, who said to meet him at the nightclub. There, at the same exact venue where Tonna had met his coach, his dad told him that Verran had suffered a heart attack and passed away.

The fighter was completely heartbroken.

“I never cried when someone died, but I couldn’t stop for days. I was so upset. It was like my second father had gone,” Tonna admits.

At the time, both he and Edwards were training for their upcoming title challenges – Tonna for a regional championship and Edwards for his first World Championship.

Jamie McCuaig took over the gym and their training camps, provided some much-needed direction, and ultimately, each man won their respective bouts in memory of their fallen mentor.

“We all said, ‘We’re going to do it for him,’” Tonna recalls. “So we all won, and that was tough. Really tough. I loved him, and I really miss him.”

View this post on Instagram

#k1wgp #timebombtonna

A post shared by Josh Tonna (@timebombtonna) on

The Aussie continued to work with McCuaig for the next few years, but he eventually switched gyms and joined Stockade Training Centre. There, he continued to claim more championships, including an ISKA World Title in 2015.

Ultimately, that World Title victory paved the way for another massive goal: an invitation to compete in K-1.

Back in 2016, the legendary promotion opened a new division and wanted to put “Timebomb” in the 2016 K-1 World Grand Prix Featherweight Tournament.

Tonna was “over the moon” to earn a spot in the eight-man bracket, but when he went toe-to-toe with Kaito Ozawa in his quarterfinal matchup, he lost in just 57 seconds.

The Australian ate a knee strike, but that didn’t hurt him badly enough to stay down. Instead, Tonna had mentally lost before stepping into the ring on that September night in Tokyo, Japan.

“I gave up before the fight even happened,” he confesses.

“I checked out because I reached my goal. I think I was really nervous and just chose not to keep going, and that was very hard to deal with. I put on a lot of weight and stopped training.”

‘I Promised Myself I Would Never Quit’

Following that loss, Tonna fell into a depression and initially wasn’t sure if he wanted to continue his career. But his wife, Kirsty, encouraged him to keep going, and soon he realized that nothing could replace the void Muay Thai and kickboxing had filled.

With that in mind, he was determined to push forward – but he made a vow to himself.

“I promised myself I would never quit ever again, and if I got knocked down, I’d get back up [unless I was knocked out],” he says.

With a renewed commitment to combat sports, Tonna carried on with his career and joined ONE Super Series as an undersized flyweight in 2018.

At first, he experienced some mixed results – the Aussie was knocked out by future ONE Flyweight Kickboxing World Champion Petchdam “The Baby Shark” Petchyindee Academy, but then he defeated Joseph “The Hurricane” Lasiri.

Then in January 2019, his vow was put to the test when he fought undefeated Japanese star Hiroki Akimoto.

About 50 seconds into the contest, Akimoto winded Tonna with a left roundhouse kick to the ribs. The referee administered a standing 10-count, which immediately brought back memories of the K-1 debacle nearly two years prior.

“I was like, ‘Not again,’ and it’s not even a minute into the fight,” Tonna remembers. “But I told myself I wouldn’t quit. The ref would have to call it off or I’d have to get knocked out.”

Believing in himself, “Timebomb” continued on with the match and wound up dropping his rival with a cross just two minutes later. Though he would ultimately fall via decision, he left the Circle with a sense of pride.

“I proved that if you can dig deep, you can turn the fight around,” Tonna says. “So even though I lost, I was proud of myself that I’d never quit again.”

Josh Tonna ???????? knocks out Andy Howson ????????

Josh “Timebomb” Tonna ???????? knocks out Andy Howson ???????? with a DEVASTATING knee! ????????: How to watch ???? http://bit.ly/ONEWCWatch????: Watch on the ONE Super App ???? bit.ly/ONESuperApp????: Shop official merchandise ???? bit.ly/ONECShop

Posted by ONE Championship on Friday, 7 February 2020

That proved to be a turning point in the Aussie’s ONE Championship career. He started incorporating major changes into his routine, which included working with Steven Bingley on his strength and conditioning, as well as Kieran Walsh on his technique at Muay U.

Tonna also surrounded himself with motivational individuals to help build up his confidence and his mindset, and that choice has paid dividends. He beat Yoshihisa “Mad Dog” Morimoto in July 2019 before moving down to strawweight, where he knocked out five-time Muay Thai World Champion Andy “Punisher” Howson this past February.

Now, the Canberra native is only days away from challenging a dominant living legend for the richest prize in the sport, the ONE Strawweight Muay Thai World Championship.

Throughout his life, Tonna had always come up just short. The underdog was never good enough to play professional soccer and was even kicked out of his own band. He may have been quick to abandon those childhood dreams, but one thing has remained a major part of his journey for the last 15 years – martial arts.

That’s because the Aussie has incorporated the knowledge from every hard lesson he’s been forced to learn, and he knows a victory next Friday would change his life and that of those around him.

“The fight is bigger than I am, and a lot of people can benefit,” Tonna says.

With that kind of mindset, nobody should count out the possibility that he’ll achieve his ultimate ONE World Title dream.

Read more: Josh Tonna Ready For Chance Of A Lifetime Against Sam-A