‘I Feel Like They Adopted Me’ – Jonathan Di Bella Explains Lifelong Connection To New York City
Jonathan Di Bella is a proud Canadian-Italian, but he has cultivated a New York state of mind since childhood.
The 27-year-old has spent a lot of time training in NYC for his upcoming ONE Strawweight Kickboxing World Title defense against Danial Williams on Friday, October 6 – and that’s nothing new.
Di Bella has been making the trip from his native Montreal to “The Big Apple” for almost two decades, and the city is now synonymous with his martial arts career.
Speaking ahead of his big return in U.S. primetime at ONE Fight Night 15 on Prime Video, Di Bella said:
“I’m always back and forth from Montreal and New York. That’s been almost my whole life. I would say from the age of 9 or 10 years old.
“My dad had his career in New York. My dad’s promoter is from Brooklyn, Lou Neglia. He used to promote all my dad’s fights in New York, and then after he promoted my fights in New York.
“My first pro fight was in Brooklyn on his show, and that was so important to me.”
While Di Bella has family connections to the Italian-American areas of Brooklyn, that wasn’t the reason why his career began there.
With kickboxing competition banned in Montreal, making the 370-mile trip was a necessity as he looked to work his way through the ranks.
And now that he’s built his career in New York and been supported by its people, Di Bella feels like he truly belongs there.
“In Montreal, kickboxing is illegal. So that’s why Brooklyn means a lot to me because that’s where I had almost all my pro fights, and that’s where I started my career.
“It means a lot to come from there and represent them as well. I feel like they adopted me. I feel like a big part of my heart is in New York, for sure.”
Fighting And Food: Jonathan Di Bella’s NYC Favorites
Jonathan Di Bella has become well acquainted with New York throughout his many years of training, teaching, and competing in the city.
Even before it became his adopted stomping ground, his father frequented the gyms in the USA’s most populous city, so there were plenty of places ready to welcome the younger Di Bella through their doors.
And due to the sheer volume of high-level training partners, ONE’s reigning strawweight kickboxing king is never short of great places to train when he’s in town.
Di Bella said:
“I switch around and I train at a lot of boxing gyms in New York. My dad’s friends have a bunch of gyms, so we go there. We mostly go around in Brooklyn. We don’t have one specific place.
“My dad calls his friends, and he always wants us to have different styles to spar against me. He doesn’t always want the same guys sparring with me. So he makes me mix it up, and we move around the gyms like that.”
Beyond his time spent training, there are many other elements to New York that resonate with Di Bella.
He loves the nonstop lifestyle of “The City That Never Sleeps,” and with more than 2 million Italian-Americans living there, he can always find a way to connect with his heritage.
Offering up some of his favorite spots, the unbeaten Team Di Bella Kickboxing representative added:
“Brooklyn reminds me more of my Italian heritage. In Manhattan, it’s a multicultural area. I like the mix. A lot of food there I like. The food is the soul. It has everything. Anything you want is there. You wake up at three o’clock in the morning, you can go somewhere.
“Lombardi’s Pizza is actually the first pizzeria in America. It’s in Little Italy in Manhattan and is one of my favorite pizza places. There’s a place in Central Park where one of my friends owns a gondola, like in Venice. He’s the only place in New York that has that so it’s kind of cool. Every summer, I spend time there.”