Anthony 'The Hitman' Vella

Anthony ‘The Hitman’ Vella was one of the outstanding fighters of early Australian Muay Thai. He had twenty fights for nineteen wins; his only loss coming via injury while fighting Paul ‘The Hurricane’ Briggs for a super-middleweight world title. Before I met him, I walked past this picture every day on my way into the gym. 

How did you come to Thai boxing?

I was about 18. I wanted to lose some weight; I was over 90 kg and unfit. The Ultimate Martial Arts Centre opened across from where I was living and a friends’ young son wanted to go train there, so I went along to support him. I started training in Zen Do Kai under John Scida and Frank Deblasie. I achieved my black belt about 3 years later, training every day. Kickboxing was the sport back then, so I started to train with John Scida [in that] and had my first and only kickboxing fight in August 1992, at the age of 21.

I remember Bob Jones coming to the centre. He showed us this new sport he wanted to start promoting in Australia from Thailand. The Bob Jones Corporation started to do Muay Thai fight nights; I had my second fight in October ‘92. I fell in love with Muay Thai that night. I remember fighting a bouncer from Melbourne. He came out hard and had good hands; I just grappled him and started to knee. It was great!

How many fights did you have?

20 fights. My only loss was to Paul Briggs (due to injury) for a world title.

John Scida called you ‘The Zombie Walker’. Why was that?

I think he called me that because when I fought or sparred, I never took a step back. I was always walking forward, through my opponents; taking what they threw at me and giving it back twice as hard.

You fought Paul ‘Hurricane’ Briggs. What do you remember about it?

I remember when the fight came up, me, John Scida and Paul Demicoli sat down and had a chat about it. I had fought and beaten everyone in the middle weight Muay Thai division at that time, and the ones that I hadn’t, did not want any part of me. The middleweight WKA World Title had just been won by a local Melbourne fighter and his managers told us that there was no chance of me having a crack at him any time soon. I had nothing to lose, so we decided to go up in weight, give away 5 kg and fight Paul, who at the time had over 50 fights and was the king of Muay Thai in the super middleweight division.

I remember on the night, the electricity in the crowd was amazing . A packed house with a ‘who’s who’ of Queensland Muay Thai on the undercard.

You also fought Richard Walsh; he said, the experience broke his heart. Why?

Not sure on that; maybe it was the ‘Zombie Walker’ style. It was a good fight and to Walsh’s credit, he got me with a jump knee that dropped me for the only count of my career.

What was your hardest fight?

Mentally, it was definitely Louie Iosifidis. The guy was the hottest thing around at that time and had been deemed unstoppable – he was equivalent back then to what Wayne Parr is today. I’d only had 10 fights, and he’d had about 36. People just wrote me off from the start. I had people telling me that they had bets on how many minutes I would last; not rounds, or win or loss. What happened that night I trained for, and I think only me and John Scida really believed I would pull it off.

So… what happened?

I knew he was a better boxer and kicker. The only thing I had over him was my grappling, and the 3-minute rounds to wear him down. Combine that with the walking zombie and we were in with a shot. I told Johnny that if I could last the first round, I would win.

Physically, [my hardest fight was] Oliver Olsen. I had fought 5 days prior on the Ramon Dekker undercard; with work and the Perth time difference, I was awake for 24 hrs before I was in the ring. He came out hard and broke my nose in the first round before I KO-ed him in the second.

Do you have any memorable experiences of fights?

All of my career was memorable; I loved fighting. My best memory was seeing my dad’s proud face after I won.

What made you stop?

After the Briggs fight, I had to get a knee reconstruction. It was over a year before I could train properly, and then I sprained my knee again and had to have more time off. I also had some personal issues at the time. By the time I could train fully I was remarried and busy in my business, so I decided to focus more on training other people.

People have asked me about a comeback for years. It would be fun, but my time has passed. Maybe something for charity one day, but that’s about it.

What made you move to Queensland?

I was married at the time and her parents moved up. I love the warm weather, so we followed them to Queensland.

Tell us a bit about your gym, ‘Hitman’.

Hitman Muay Thai Gym is situated behind Jamie Stamp’s house. Jamie and his brother Robbie started to train with some friends in a 2-car shed and asked me to go down and help. That 2-car shed is now a 150m-squared shed with bags, a ring and weights. Those friends are now multiple-state and Australian champions, including Jamie Stamp, Anthony Foy, Adam Strong and Ben Lane.

I love training the boys and having the gym. I always admired my trainer, John Scida. I always wanted (even early in my career) to be a trainer like him and not just a pad-holder – there’s a difference. There is nothing fancy about our gym; we train hard and fight harder. We have a lot of young talent. Proof of a good gym is when you have multiple champions coming through. I’m proud of the boys and all they’ve achieved thus far.

How do you feel about your kids fighting?

I’m not one of those dads that would push anything onto my kids or try to live my life through them. If they decide to train and fight, I have no problem with that. Their mum may have something to say, though.

This photo is one of my most treasured memories of fighting; being cornered by the Hitman (left) and the guy from ‘The Hangover’ during my last fight in Queensland. 

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