‘I Was Always Thinking About Fighting’ – The Lifetime Of Work That Led Jonathan Di Bella To Kickboxing World Title Shot

Strawweight kickboxer Jonathan Di Bella

Jonathan Di Bella might be a newcomer to ONE Championship, but he’s spent his entire existence preparing for a moment like this on Friday, October 21.

The Canadian-Italian will take on Zhang Peimian for the vacant ONE Strawweight Kickboxing World Title in the main event of ONE 162, and despite being just 26 years old, he’s already well over two decades into his martial arts journey.

Find out what led Di Bella to the Axiata Arena in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, as he aims to make all of that hard work pay off in the biggest fight of his career.

Italian Blood In Canada

Although he was born and raised in Montreal, Canada, Di Bella comes from Italian stock, and that heritage played a significant part in his upbringing. 

“My family came from the mountains of Italy. I grew up in North America and Canada with an Italian family,” he explains. 

“My grandparents on both sides [are Italian]. My dad’s from here and my mom is from Italy

“I grew up around other Italians in Montreal – it’s like a town full of Italians. Where I’m from, in my neighborhood, it’s mostly Italians.”

Di Bella’s father, Angelo, was a multiple-time Kickboxing Champion and ran his own gym from the age of 19. This meant combat sports were all his son knew from a young age.

In fact, the aspiring athlete had little interest in studies or many other traditional activities. Instead, he always hoped to follow in his dad’s footsteps.

He recalls:

“I couldn’t wait to get out of school and go straight to the gym from the school. I was always thinking about fighting. Every day, every second. If it wasn’t at recess when we would go play soccer, in class, I was thinking about fighting.”

Growing Up In The Gym

Di Bella started training with his father when he was just 2 years old at their Team Di Bella gym, working on the hybrid style that Angelo had used to achieve great success in the ring. 

The youngster enjoyed his sessions, but he didn’t truly realize his future in the sport until competing for the first time at 10 years old.

And from there, he eventually transitioned his tactics into the professional game.

“It’s a mixture of Kyokushin karate and kickboxing. My dad did that when I was only starting with kickboxing,” Di Bella explains. 

“I started out as an amateur, but when I went pro later on, I did K-1 rules with low kicks and knees.”

Angelo was an advocate of training in multiple styles and took his son to boxing gyms to spar and work with all types of purists.

This led the younger Di Bella to develop a well-rounded striking arsenal that he is eager to showcase inside the Circle. 

He says:

“My dad always brought me to boxing gyms when I was a kid. He taught me how to box, but he just made me go spar and learn how to box properly against other fighters.

“[My style], sometimes I can kick, sometimes I can box, and I can mix it up, so it depends. You will see it on fight night.”

Success Through The Ranks

It should not be a surprise that Di Bella enjoyed prodigious success across multiple sports.

He accumulated a 20-0 amateur kickboxing record, a 6-0 amateur boxing record, and even competed in Muay Thai tournaments just to get the matches under his belt.

As a smaller fighter for his weight class, he had to make some concessions, but that helped forge him into the competitor he is today.

“I fought bigger guys a lot because there were not a lot of small guys at 125 pounds in North America. So I had no choice but to fight bigger guys in some fights. So it was not always easy, but I got through it,” Di Bella says.

“As an amateur, I won the ITF Muay Thai World Championships in Disneyworld, Florida. I scored three knockouts in one competition. That was a big accomplishment. And in 2018, I won the ISKA North American title in Madison Square Garden against Ahmad Ibrahim, so that was [another big] accomplishment.”

Throughout his martial arts journey, family was always the big catalyst that pushed Di Bella forward.

It continues to motivate him in the professional ranks – where he’s a perfect 10-0 in kickboxing and 2-0 in boxing – and it could propel him toward his first World Title this Friday.

The Italian-Canadian says:

“I do this all for my parents, my whole family, and my whole team. They all supported me, always, forever, so I’m doing it for them.”

Gunning For World Title Success In ONE

Now just days away from a massive ONE Strawweight Kickboxing World Title bout against Zhang at ONE 162, Di Bella is grateful for the opportunity.

At the same time, he has long been preparing mentally for this moment.

After signing with the world’s largest martial arts organization, the Montreal native kept his eyes on the division’s top contenders and had the feeling he would get his shot at the vacant belt following the retirement of former king Sam-A Gaiyanghadao.

“In the back of my mind, I knew Zhang Peimian had to fight me next because nobody else is really at that level,” Di Bella says.

“I knew he was getting a title shot, so I kind of knew I was getting a title shot. But when I finally got it, I was surprised and very happy.”

A chance to realize 24 years of hard work is finally here, and Di Bella can’t wait to represent his birthplace of Canada and his Italian heritage on the global stage as he goes for gold.

He adds:

“Italy is where my roots are. That’s what I’m representing. And I’m very proud to be representing the whole country.

“When I win the belt, I believe I’m going to be the only male North American World Champion in kickboxing at the moment.

“It’s important to me, of course, because I want to put my name on the map in America too.”

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