Thursday, June 23, 2011

Fixing the Bank with Joseph Valtellini

by Flip English
Due to logistic issues a traditional face-to-face interview with Joseph Valtellini was deemed impossible. The Canadian Muay Thai artist was hard at work in his hometown of Toronto Ontario, making final preparations for his showdown with Ben Case in New York. As one of last year's contender for North American Muay Thai Fighter of 2010, it was expected that his concentration would be with his camp members at Ultimate Martial Arts. But regardless of how the interview was conducted, what's important is that Valtellini is here and he is ready to make his mark in Muay Thai. And judging by the result of that match, it looks like he and Team Ultimate made excellent use of that time.

For those in attendance at the Friday Night Fights event in the Big Apple on April 29th, they were witnesses to a battle between two young talents who made it a memorable evening. The bout between Joseph Valtellini and Ben Case lived up to audience expectations and was one of only two fights that night that did not go to decision. Valtellini, whose previous professional fights were all by TKO, did not disappoint in continuing that trend. Against the very formidable Ben Case, Valtellini dropped his undefeated rival with a hook late in the fourth round. The bell threw a life preserver to Case that saved him from the referee's counts, but in the following round no friendly ring could halt destiny. At 53 seconds of round five the referee concluded the contest after a jolting kick to Case's cranium made him crash to the canvass. Considering Case's impressive seven win run before facing Valtellini, the fighter to give Case his first loss would have gotten much respect in the sport. Considering the manner in which Valtellini delivered the loss, that level of respect he has achieved should now come with a considerable amount of fear for his future foes.

Along with other wins over respected names in the east coast such as Max Chen, Dorian Price, and Sean Hinds, this recent victory for Valtellini is steadily hardening his reputation, and in the process easing some of his complaints: "As a professional fighter from Canada I feel that it is very hard to get any exposure and fights. I have a lot of experience but my record doesn’t show it." In terms of experience, since the start of his Muay Thai career the Canadian native has yet to lose a fight, holding a record of eleven wins as an amateur with four by way of knockout. During that time Valtellini also accumulated several titles as the recipient of top honors such as the National Middleweight Champion, Ontario Middleweight Champion, and the IKF Classic 2009 Amateur Champion. But even with all these achievements he still feels unfulfilled, and thus, hasn't lost his hunger: "I feel like my skills and talent can match up with the best. I will continue to take bigger and harder fights to prove that."

With a statement like that and a growing perfect record, Valtellini is making himself a high-value target for any fighter looking to add worthy opponents to their win list, much like a prize on a poacher’s wall to brag about. And with each win Valtellini amounts, he is surely fattening himself up in the eyes of the top predators in the game. With each win he is looking more like a rare rhino with huge horns, his flawless record becoming a tempting invitation for any fighter brave enough to try and mark it with an L. But the virgin to a loss image is one that Valtellini openly welcomes, because after all, it is the big game hunters whom he wants to attract: "I will never be content with just building up my record. I want to always fight the best and push myself."

But beware and good luck to the fearless fighters who choose to pursue, for Valtellini has an aggressiveness that have been honed since his diaper days. One can make a case that Valtellini was a child not typically raised like other boys. He was introduced to the warrior's lifestyle at a very early age. Soon after developing the ability to stand, punching and kicking also became part of his training. He grew up watching movies like Kickboxer, Bloodsport, and Rocky with his father, which influenced his enthusiasm for Martial Arts. While his peers were watching cartoons he was memorizing Van Damme and Stallone scripts, and after enrolling in a Taekwondo program at age seven he instantly fell in love with the sport, spending a dozen years of his life being hooked on the art. As he grew up the toys he played with were custom-made punching bags constructed by his father, and together they practiced the basics of fighting on a variety of equipment. His father had always been a fan of the combative arts, and the appreciation seemed genetic because the affinity was naturally embraced by his son. Many nights they would stay up late to watch boxing and wrestling on TV, and it was during moments like these that the strong bond between the two continued to form, a connection similar to what an ancient Spartan father and son might have shared. This bond kept strengthening throughout his life as his father observed every Taekwondo lesson and continues to watch all his fights into adulthood. The time his father invested in young Valtellini's life thickened his drive and confidence early on. He reflects: "Even when competing at a young age I always tried above and beyond because I didn’t want to disappoint him." Now, at twenty-six years old and fresh from procuring his fourth consecutive victory as a pro, he is still showing his seriousness about not disappointing.

But his father's motive behind his method of child rearing was never to raise a bully, instead it was to lay a fertile foundation from which a champion may grow: "My parents looked at combat as a sport and a way of teaching discipline rather then something used to promote violence in a negative manner." Their method was well comprehended. Like a good student Valtellini absorbed the reasons behind his parents' plan for his life preparation, which are lessons that he hopes to instill in future generations. Aside from maintaining the consistency of his performance, as well as developing new techniques to improve his game, when Valtellini is not training with his camp he is demonstrating the importance of physical education at a high school in Toronto where he teaches, trying to set a positive example for the youths of his community as his other profession. "I am continually trying to prove to people that a fighter does not have to be like what they see on the Ultimate Fighter show. I don’t have tattoos and a Chuck Liddell haircut. I want to show that we are athletes and not just goons off the street."

With so much to prove it is no wonder why Valtellini trains so hard. His will to succeed seems to be as strong as adamantium. At this rate, with the momentum he has gained on his course for a championship run, the track he is on seems smoothly paved towards the inevitable. It's now up to the promoters on how fast his flow to a title shot will be, and if a few more fights is needed to validate his worth and qualify for that big bout, then there is no doubt that Valtellini is up for it. His mentality has been steering straight in that direction for some time now, and for his focus to fail and slow his pace would not reflect the type of drive of this fighter's spirit. The engine that runs his motivation is built to contend with only fighters at the alpha level, and to ensure his efficiency in eluding his opponents, Valtellini keeps his body well-tuned for the rumble-rides inside the ring. "I like to push the pace and keep the fight exciting. Also I feel that my strength and conditioning is second to none. One aspect that is missing in Muay Thai is that it is behind the curve on other sports in terms of this. My strength and conditioning coach Costa Kladianos from Tempus Performance really prepares me to be able to push a fast and exciting pace." To interpret his words in an alternate way, a lion is only lethal if the animal has the endurance to catch its meal and deliver the fangs of death. To interpret Valtellini as a fighter in the ring, he is a well-trained beast with the stamina and skill to get opponents open to serve his sharp bites. This is why he was a problem to the previous challengers he had encountered. All those whom he had engaged with in his professional career had fallen by TKO. Fighting Valtellini is much like a race, and those who want to run laps with him better have enough horsepower to match his tenacity if they intend to last.

But a commitment to conditioning is only part of Valtellini's formula for winning; another significant piece is his capacity to master the many moves that have made him such a menace against his match-ups. Aside from being a well-maintained Muay Thai machine, when questioned about his general style and performance specialties, Valtellini's self-assessment focused on his timing and power as being the cornerstones of his technique. Much of Valtellini's success is due to the belief of clean technique being the key to translating power, which he credits his coach Kru Paul who "is very particular when it comes to technique." And as a self-professed perpetual pupil of Martial Arts, he has dedicated himself to a boundless growth, the type of growth that is fueled by a perfectionist perspective to never stop improving: "I am a student of the game. I want to be the best I can be, and take it as far as possible." It was this same oath that Valtellini lives by that had led him to make a major change in his combat training as a teen. After acquiring a second-degree black belt in Taekwondo, Valtellini's instinct told him that the time was right to expand his game: "I felt that I needed more competition and contact. I wanted something more and felt that Muay Thai offered me what I was looking for." And so at the age of nineteen Valtellini retired his do-bok, said peace to his dojang, and sought out a local Muay Thai camp to help him understand the Science of Eight Limbs. That search led him to find Kru Paul Minhas, his trainer from Ultimate Martial Arts where Valtellini eventually rose to become camp captain of Team Ultimate.

In the Team Ultimate camp is where the Muay Thai education of Valtellini was advanced. Kru Paul acknowledged the talent of his new pupil, and then gradually molded his raw athleticism to produce the physique that set him on his winning ways, transforming his anatomy to become the biological weapon that it is today. That maturation process enhanced the teachings he learned from Taekwondo, adding another form of attack to his assault options by incorporating the knowledge of knee and elbow strikes. With that developed a new depth in defense as the consciousness of how the body has infinite ways to hurt is broadened, especially when all eight points can be used in combinations along with the clinch. Muay Thai's complexity can become complicated to a fighter who doesn't like to do homework, but Valtellini is a proven student of the science which his grades depict in the collective record of his impressive career. The strict attention he devotes to Kru Paul's training, plus the hours of practice he puts in with his peers is what defines his dominance. He has already demonstrated that height and professional experience is not a factor as he resisted the challenge that the taller Ben Case had posed in his latest bout. So what now? What does one do when one's comfort level in the ring feels no fear from any fighter? Well as the poison that Valtellini packs becomes more potent as he progresses with each practice session, naturally his confidence too will grow.

After a lion has laid his dominance on a certain terrain, what else is there to do but strive to gain more range. Valtellini is poised to expand his property in the Muay Thai real estate, and the territory he has targeted is anything that holds a title. He is not calling out any specific names, but whoever answers his roaring call better have enough appetite to eat an elephant, because Valtellini is eager to acquire the assets that he desires.

But with all seriousness, beyond the dramatics expressed in this text which were meant to entertain, there really is no motive to hype his name. His record itself has more strength than the fancy word works contained in these writings, and intuition tells me that at the current rate of his popularity growth, Valtellini won't be needing propaganda pieces to spread his reputation in the States. Word of mouth from the fans will do the job after they see the type of fight this athlete brings to the ring. The purpose of this article is to simply advertise a quality fighter. Presently there is not enough monetary resource to award the hard work of every Muay Thai fighter. As of now receiving the right recognition to help someone like Valtellini establish himself in the world of Muay Thai is part of the payment. It is extra compensation for the entertainment value that he and other passionate fighters deliver to spectators.

Joseph Valtellini will need no hyping, none at all. He is not the Messiah of Muay Thai, but his dedication to the art makes him a devout disciple of the movement. The struggle of this sport to manifest itself to a mainstream format is something Valtellini can relate to. Being from Canada and trying to break into an American audience is almost like an American Muay Thai artist struggling to make a name for himself in Thailand. Our revolution to gain respect and relevancy is the unifying challenge that Muay Thai as an underground sport, and Valtellini as an up and coming fighter, both share. Almost everybody familiar with combat sports knows the names of Pacquiao and Mayweather, and St. Pierre and Anderson Silva, but that is because there is money to fund its mass media outlet. But truth is: the common denominators of a good fight are the fighters themselves. It is not dictated by a specific sport, but really by the hearts of the fighters performing. The only difference with Muay Thai compared with boxing and MMA is the bank that promotes them.

The logistics to advancing something into significance is dependent on presentation. If promoters prepare things right and put in print the type of names fans want to see on a card, then by the law of supply and demand, Muay Thai's mainstream market run could just be warming up at the starting line. Boxing may have developed a cancer on its sport by the mess that is the missed-out match-up between Pacquiao and Mayweather, but like it is in nature, the room left vacant when something falls is opportunity for another to rise. The time has ripened for Muay Thai to begin its blooming. It will not wilt under the shadow of pressure, but will use that pressure as a catalyst to grow through its oppositions and rise above obscurity. Pressure has the ability to crush dreams, but it is also what transforms coals into diamonds.

The story of Valtellini's childhood cultivation and how he has reaped the fruits from that kind of care is a jewel to be admired. And the good news is that he is not the only gem glistening in the sport of Muay Thai. There are a good number of fighters who have thrived under pressure just as Valtellini has done. These warriors have hearts as hard as a diamond and are the investments that will help build up the broken bank of Muay Thai...and with a talent pool this deep and rich, what is there really to stop us? 

*Photo courtesy of Lance Burns (www.PhotoBurns.com)

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