The latest drama on the ONE Championship front is brewing up, and it's as many fans expected about the much sought-after Jonathan Di Bella. The undefeated Italian-Canadian fighter had a stellar 2022, winning the inaugural ONE Strawweight Kickboxing title in a fight of the year contender against Chinese prospect Zhang Peimian in October of last year. Then there was silence, the months went by without any fight news for Di Bella.
Following ONE Fight Night 11 in Bangkok, Thailand, the Thai media was also curious about the whereabouts of the charismatic champion. ONE Championship CEO Chatri Sityodtong didn't hold back, and had some harsh words for Di Bella, accusing him of avoiding the Zhang Peimian rematch and calling his last-round knockdown a "fluke". On top of that, the promotion is considering stripping him of his title.
Jonathan Di Bella. Why doesn’t he have any fights booked?
He doesn’t want to defend [his title]. We want to book a rematch with Zhang Peimian. But he knows that after four rounds, he lost, like lost easily. In the fifth round, he fluked and head kicked [Zhang]. We might strip him.
He is the champion, but he doesn’t want to defend his title. That's a pity.
No, but I understand. When you get the ONE belt, you get dignity, fans, and sponsorships. Lots of things. You can become a movie star. He is from Canada. In Canada he is a superstar. But he fights a Chinese fighter and loses… I understand. But it is not fair. In this sport, when you have the opportunity to fight in the main ONE Championship, it means you are the best of the best. You need to have responsibilities. This is professional fighting. You compete for the belt and you win it. You must have dignity in yourself, not just the belt that has dignity, you must also have dignity and defend [the title]. But most of the time we don’t have problems. We might have one or two issues like this, every two or three years.
JONATHAN DI BELLA STATEMENT
It's not the first time the promotion has struggled to keep its athletes satisfied. Anissa Meksen, who's been vocal about not getting her dues, is now in a legal dispute with ONE Championship while trying to get her start in MMA in another promotion. A reoccurring theme seems to be how infrequent athletes are getting booked. Nieky Holzken and Murat Aygun talked to Remy Bonjasky during the Warrior's Code podcast about their struggles of keeping a busy schedule inside the promotion. The latter is now with GLORY Kickboxing.
Beyond Kickboxing has reached out to Jonathan Di Bella for an official statement.
"Since I won my title, I haven't heard from ONE, no congratulations, no next fight news. I have asked to fight on May 5 card in Colorado against Zhang or Daniel Williams since he called me out. ONE replied that they don't want to do those fights. For over six months I did not know when I will be defending my title. I saw Zhang had fought, and I still wasn’t sure when I was fighting next. I got offered a fight against Zhang for June, I said yes, I started training camp, but they kept postponing the date without explanation. As the world knows already, my win against Zhang was not a fluke. As I gave the fans one of the best fights of the year in my debut, I should have got respect not disrespect... Especially considering I haven’t fought Kickboxing in three years before that fight."
We've also talked to Angelo, Jonathan's father and trainer, who's disappointment about the whole situation was palpable, "All we wanted was for Jonathan to make a living fighting. We love the idea of ONE, like being in the UFC with Kickboxing, but it's not the case."
With tensions high, it's unclear if that's the last we've seen of Di Bella in ONE Championship, or if the two parties can make amends to move forward together.