Joseph Valtellini stands in the middle of his gym, Bazooka Kickboxing, explaining how to properly throw a cross punch. His video man Danny Lau, records him. The multitude of shots he takes will be complied into Valtellini’s next YouTube video for his online series. He goes through the movements with ease and confidence, getting through each shot in only one take. He knows what he’s doing and he knows what he wants to teach his viewers. “They call me one take Joe,” he says laughing. Lau was a former student of Valtellini’s, but quickly assumed the role of videographer once Valtellini gained a large internet following, especially after his appearance on The Joe Rogan Experience. It’s an average day at the gym, recording for his YouTube series and teaching some kickboxing classes.
He greets everyone as they walk into the gym, standing at the front door with a smile, “Hey buddy, how are you?”. A young boy walks in, shy and distracted, his eyes wander around the gym when Valtellini shakes his hand. He grabs his hand again, slightly more serious this time, “Look at me in the eyes when you shake my hand”. The little boy does as he’s told and a smile spreads across Valtellini’s face. He pats him on the back and the boy smiles. Later on, once class begins the same little boy stands at the front beside him, yelling out counts as the class skips rope to his orders.
As a physical education teacher for children with disabilities, it comes to no surprise that Valtellini is comfortable with kids and assuming the teaching role of kickboxing coach. The gym is filled with the sounds of skin hitting leather pads and hissing noises as the class dispels hard breaths with each punch and kick. The chains on the punching bags clank around with each hit and the gym is packed with students. Valtellini’s voice echoes through the gym as he yells out instructions. The windows drip with condensation mimicking the foreheads of his students. The louder Valtellini yells, the harder they hit the pads. As the class takes breaks between combinations to receive their next set of instructions, they circle around him, holding on to every word. He goes over combinations in detail and the confidence that is only gained through years of experience.
From a young age, Valtellini used to watch martial arts movies with his dad, he was obsessed with Jean-Claude Van Damme and Rocky. His obsession soon turned into passion and his father was there with him each step of the way. “My father, one of the biggest influences in my life, really brought that passion out in me. From the young age of four we would recreate the Rocky scenes, and I’d come out and knock out my dad and my family would cheer,” he says. Not known to Valtellini or his family at the time, but his knockouts would become famous in the years to come, earning the name “Bazooka Joe”. At the age of four Valtellini wanted to join taekwondo but was told he had to wait until he was seven. For those three years, his life revolved around training. His father built him punching bags in the basement and everything they did together had to do with him becoming a martial artist. His mother, however was not as enthusiastic about his fighting career. His first amateur fight, Valtellini and his father lied to her and told her it was only a demonstration, but when he came home with a black eye their story was not as believable. She was angry, but soon realized that this was her son’s calling. Although she never attended a fight, she supported him in other ways; such as making his meals when he was trying to cut weight or doing his laundry, chores he had little time for while working and training full-time.
Kickboxing training is rigorous and exhausting and Valtellini holds his students to the same standards he holds himself to, professionals and beginners alike. He circles around the gym, watching each sparring pair, giving them tips and corrections. His head tilts down and his eyes lock in on his professional fighters as he examines each hit they make. “I’m not particularly impressed,” he says to the class. They can do better. The atmosphere in the gym remains lighthearted, they know what kind of coach he is and his criticism is not to be taken personally. However, the tone soon changes, sparring is important but it can also be dangerous, no one is to come to class without protective head gear again. No one is smiling now, he means business. Injury is something Valtellini has dealt with many times, the most serious, his concussion after winning his Glory Welterweight World Champion title in 2014. The concussion that would force him to give up fighting professionally for good. Valtellini describes his life prior to his injury as “perfectly scripted,” his concussion brought him to the realization that not everything in life goes as planned. “It was a big change for me, there was a little bit of depression there because I wasn’t doing what I genuinely loved, but then I found love doing other things,” he says. Remaining in the realm of martial arts, Valtellini decided to open his own gym and become a commentator for Glory Kickboxing. Now that he is no longer fighting, the goal is to improve his skills on camera and become the best kickboxing broadcaster the world has ever seen. He believes sometimes fighters stay in the sport a little too long, where they face more permanent injury, he never wanted to end up that way. It was an easy decision to stop fighting he says, at the end of the day he did accomplish his ultimate goal of becoming a world champion.
Valtellini changed over from taekwondo to kickboxing when he was 19-years-old. His coach was the first person to tell him he would become a world champion. He didn’t believe him at first but after winning fights against fighters who had much more experience than himself, Valtellini began to believe it too. “I knew I had a good professional career ahead of me,” he says. He played a variety of sports growing up including soccer and football, in University he was a kicker for the Toronto Varsity Blues Canadian Football team. With every sport he played, Valtellini never felt that he really excelled at anything, he was good but not great, that is until he tried kickboxing. Instantaneously he knew it was the sport for him, he loved the idea of training hard for a fight and being rewarded with a win. The success only fed his addiction, it made him want to keep training and win again.
With plans of visiting 18 countries this year to commentate for fights, Valtellini’s newest adventure is just beginning. He explains that being a martial artist is a lifestyle, it’s not something that you can just turn off, it determines the way he lives his life each day. Although he’s no longer fighting, there is no doubt that he will remain an active member of the kickboxing community for the rest of his life.
As the class comes to an end and the students begin to pack up their things, another young boy runs up to Valtellini and asks him a question. He gives him an answer and then places his hand on his small shoulder, “you have to work hard” he tells the young boy. His eyes locked into Valtellini’s he nods and smiles, promising he will. His large gloves overpower his slim arms as he raises his hand to shake Valtellini’s. He walks off with a smile and a look of concentration as he mulls over his coach’s instructions in his head.