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Montreal's Jonathan Di Bella defends kickboxing title in Bangkok against Thai veteran

Jonathan Di Bella is no stranger to the big stage, having fought five times at Madison Square Garden.
Canadian Jonathan Di Bella is shown in action Oct. 21, 2022, against China’s (The Fighting Rooster) Zhang Peimian (blond hair) at One 162: Zhang vs. Di Bella in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Di Bella won by unanimous decision to claim the vacant One Strawweight kickboxing world title. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-One Championship **MANDATORY CREDIT**

Jonathan Di Bella is no stranger to the big stage, having fought five times at Madison Square Garden.

The 27-year-old from Montreal returns to another storied combat sports venue on Friday when he defends his One Championship strawweight kickboxing title against Thailand's Prajanchai PK Saenchai in the co-main event of "One Friday Fights 58: Superbon vs. Grigorian II" at Bangkok's Lumpinee Boxing Stadium.

"I always dreamed about fighting in Lumpinee Stadium as a kid. And now I'm doing it and defending my title. It's an honour," Di Bella said from Thailand.

Di Bella won the vacant strawweight kickboxing title in October 2022 when he earned a decision over China's (The Fighting Rooster) Zhang Peimian, who was then 19, in Kuala Lumpur. The Canadian defended the championship belt last October in Bangkok, winning a decision over Australia-Thai fighter Danial Williams.

Lumpinee bills itself as "the beating heart of Muay Thai In Thailand attracting the greatest fighters of this generation."

Prajanchai fits that bill. The 29-year-old Thai fighter's pro record is a staggering 342-52-3.

Di Bella has yet to lose, however. The five-foot-eight 124-pounder is 12-0 as a pro, was unbeaten as an amateur and went 2-0 as a pro boxer.

Prajanchai fought 11 times in 2015 alone, posting a 9-1-1 record. Di Bella calls him the toughest fighter he has faced to date.

"I can't wait," he said.

Di Bella's silky striking skills will be put to the test against Prajanchai, who hopes to add Di Bella's kickboxing title to his One Championship Muay Thai crown.

Fighters in One's kickboxing division wear eight-ounce boxing gloves (10-ounce gloves for featherweight or heavier) and can score a knockout via punch, kick or knee. Muay Thai bouts see the fighters wear four-ounce MMA gloves and can knock out opponents via punch, kick, knee, elbow or legal throw.

Prajanchai has a wealth of experience in a variety of combat sports,

"This guy has like 400 fights and we're fighting in his hometown … He has a lot more experience than me so I believe he has all the advantage over me," said Di Bella.

Prajanchai showed his teeth in December when he knocked out Moroccan-Italian Joseph (The Hurricane) Lasiri at Lumpinee Stadium with a nasty elbow to unify the One Muay Thai title.

While Prajanchai celebrated in front of his hometown fans, Lasiri — who had won the title from the Thai in May 2022 — needed help from four officials to regain his feet.

A gifted technical striker with piston-like leg kicks, Di Bella poses problems of his own for Prajanchai.

"We'll see on fight night. Anything can happen," said Di Bella. "I've just got to be ready for anything."

Friday's main event pits Thailand's Superbon Singha Mawynn against Armenia's Marat Grigorian for the One interim featherweight kickboxing world title.

Superbon, a former featherweight world champion, defended the title with a decision over Grigorian when they met in March 2022, only to lose his crown to Georgian-born Azerbaijani-Belarusian Chingiz Allazov in January 2023.

Calgary's Jake Peacock makes his One Championship debut Friday when he meets Japanese bantamweight Kohei (Samurai Warrior) Shinjo on the undercard. Peacock (12-1) is a unique talent given he was born without a right hand. The amniotic band was wrapped around his arm in the early stages of development, which stopped it from growing.

Peacock won the "Road to One" tournament, recording three straight wins to earn a US$100,000 six-fight contract with One Championship. 

Di Bella started in the sport when he was two years old. His father Angelo was a kickboxing champion in his own right and has his own gym in Montreal.

Jonathan turned pro at 19, fighting mainly in New York where the kickboxing scene is more vibrant. He trains in both cities these days.

Outside the ring, Di Bella and girlfriend Emely have a coffee business. Di Bella Espresso is billed as "where passion meets perfection in every sip."


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This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 4, 2024

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press