Jonathan Di Bella pulled off the upset of his career in his ONE Championship debut last year. The Canadian talent upset Zhang Peimian to snag the vacant ONE strawweight kickboxing championship, and he returns for his first defense against Danial Williams at ONE Fight Night 15 on Friday, Oct. 6.
But he won’t only be representing Canada in his upcoming bout. The Montreal native also has a place in his heart for New York City.
Di Bella has a long history of competing in The Big Apple, but it also has a family connection, as his father began his fighting career there.
“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,” Di Bella told ONE.
“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.”
Because of the regulations around kickboxing, Di Bella had to compete in the U.S. After spending so much time in the city, the undefeated star believes he represents the city just as much as his home country.
“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,” the ONE strawweight kickboxing champion recalled.
“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.”
Di Bella’s story in New York doesn’t begin and end with the early years of his career. To this day, the 27-year-old splits time between Montreal and the famed American city.
He trains at various gyms there to keep on his toes with various styles, helping him adapt to whatever his opponents throw at him on the global stage.
“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,” Di Bella said.
“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.”
Of the five boroughs, Brooklyn is where Di Bella’s heart truly lies. And it is unsurprising as to why.
The Italian culture in the area makes him feel connect with his roots.
“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,” the 27-year-old said.
“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.”
When Di Bella makes his walk to the ring at ONE Fight Night 15, he will have the pleasure of representing three nations. He represents his Italian heritage, his Canadian upbringing, and life in New York City. The strawweight kickboxing king is a true man of the world.
ONE Fight Night 15 on Prime Video airs live on Friday, Oct. 6, at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT. The event is free for all Amazon Prime subscribers based in the U.S. and Canada.
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