Gary Balletto Jr. was only five years old around the time his father, Gary “Tiger” Balletto, became a household name in the boxing world through the exposure of ESPN’s Friday Night Fights.
Through the years, he’s learned to appreciate the legacy his father built, whether from old family VHS tapes or the wonder of YouTube, where many of the elder Balletto’s fights are still available for viewer consumption, among them his vicious knockout wins over Larry O’Shields and Mike DeBenedetto in 2000 and 2002, respectively, and his 2006 win over Aaron Torres on Season 2 of ESPN’s The Contender.
Tomorrow night, Balletto watches with pride as his son, now 22 years old and four fights into his professional mixed martial arts career, makes his own network television debut on AXS TV’s AXS TV Fights as part of the main card of “CES MMA 45” at Twin River Casino.
Balletto Jr. (3-1, 1 KO) faces Nick Alley (3-1, 1 KO) of Hooksett, N.H., in a three-round welterweight bout.
“With my dad having fought on national TV many times, it’s awesome to be able to do the same,” said the Cranston, R.I., native. “It’s great to finally showcase myself to a larger audience. This is, after all, a spectator sport.”
The AXS TV platform has proven to be a springboard for recent CES alumni, many of whom built their foundation and gained notoriety on network television. Regional standouts Greg Rebello, Matt Bessette, Carlos Candelario and Mike Rodriguez all appeared on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, yet another outlet for aspiring fighters looking to earn their spot with the Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC).
Candelario and Rodriguez both won their matches with Rodriguez’s vicious knockout over Jamelle Jones earning him a spot on ESPN SportsCenter’s SC Top 10 nightly highlight reel.
Starting tomorrow, the sky’s the limit for Balletto Jr., who grew up in the spotlight of national television, an 11-year-old spectator in Pasadena alongside his mother, Christina, watching his father trade blows with Torres on The Contender.
In just his fifth pro fight, Balletto Jr. – a standout amateur boxer before transitioning full-time to MMA – has the opportunity to build his own legacy, an amazing turnaround since losing his professional debut in August of 2015, a frustrating unanimous decision against Anthony Giacchina.
He’s been especially dominant during his recent three-fight win streak, including a 2-minute, 37-second win over Cruz Johnson for his first professional victory, which ended with a leglock submission, and his equally-impressive submission win over Chris Torres at “CES MMA 42,” which also ended with a leglock.
“The progression I’ve made from my first fight to now is infinite,” Balletto Jr. said. “I’m a whole new fighter in every sense of this sport. I entered as a boxer and have evolved to become a martial artist.
“I feel I have a very high fight IQ. I’m addicted to the progression of my own skill level and I’m eager to continue to evolve.”
While growing up in the Balletto household, the son of a famous fighter, has had its perks, Balletto Jr. wants to be known as more than the son of “Tiger” Balletto, a Rhode Island boxing icon who became paralyzed from the waist down following an accident at his home in 2015.
Another rising prospect on the local scene, boxer Ray Oliveira Jr., has dealt with similar circumstances as the son of the legendary “Sucra” Ray Oliveira. The two share similar traits, namely their willingness to fight anyone at any given time, but are ultimately two different fighters.
Oliveira Jr. draws inspiration from his father’s past, similar to how Balletto Jr. is driven by his father’s success, both past and present; the elder Balletto has worked tirelessly to rebuild upper and lower body strength in hopes of one day walking again, his progress documented periodically on social media, inspiring others in all walks of life.
Unlike some fighters whose fathers achieved fame long before them, Balletto Jr. embraces his family’s history instead of trying to run from it. There’s no pressure for the 22-year-old welterweight, just a desire to be the best he can be and carry on the family tradition.
“Growing up under the name of my father, Gary ‘Tiger’ Balletto, has been instrumental. It always kept a light on everything I have done in combat sports locally,” Balletto Jr. said. “It forced me to hold myself to a higher regard to meet the expectations of my name.
“I will always be the son of Gary Balletto, however, now passing the local barrier, I’m ready to step into an identity of my own.”
Tickets for “CES MMA 45” are priced at $40.00, $55.00, $100.00 and $125.00 (VIP) and can be purchased online at www.cesboxing.com, www.twinriver.com, www.ticketmaster.com or www.cagetix.com/ces by phone at 401-724-2253/2254 or at the Twin River Casino Players Club. All fights and fighters are subject to change.
The preliminary card begins at 7 p.m. ET and features three bouts followed by the AXS TV Fights main card beginning at 9, which features six televised bouts.
The main card features two world-title bouts, including the long-awaited return of reigning CES MMA Heavyweight Champion Ashley Gooch (10-5, 7 KOs) defending the strap against fan-favorite Juliano Coutinho (7-3, 3 KOs), plus longtime regional stalwarts Saul Almeida (19-8, 1 KO) of Framingham, Mass., and Pedro Gonzalez (11-5) of nearby Gloucester battling for the promotion’s Interim Featherweight World Title.
In a highly-anticipated regional showdown that could steal the spotlight Aug. 11th, rising lightweight star Nate Andrews (10-1, 5 KOs) of East Providence, R.I., puts his four-fight win streak on the line against Maine native Bruce Boyington (14-10, 8 KOs), a veteran of 24 professional fights and a three-time WSOF vet.
Also on the main card, bantamweight Richie Santiago (4-0, 1 KO) puts his unbeaten record on the line on AXS TV against Queens, N.Y., vet Miguel Restrepo (4-3-1, 2 KOs).
Unbeaten Milford, Mass., bantamweight Kris Moutinho (4-0, 1 KO) battles Erie, Pa., native Brandon Seyler (6-5-1, 1 KO), who makes his second appearance with CES MMA. Moutinho is off to a flying start as a pro with wins in all four of his bouts under the guidance of CES MMA, including an impressive unanimous decision win over seven-fight vet Lloyd Reyes at “CES MMA 42.”
Highlighting the preliminary card, 20-year-old Providence, R.I., native John Douma battles Jason Rine (0-2) of Danville, Ohio, following wins in each of his last three amateur bouts, and Providence, R.I., heavyweight Eric Bedard (6-7, 4 KOs) faces Ohio’s Marquis Allen (1-0, 1 KO).
Ludlow, Mass., lightweight Leon Davis (8-3, 1 KO) returns to face Andrew Osborne (7-10, 2 KOs), the two-time CES MMA vet and North Carolina native who now lives and trains in North Providence, R.I. Osborne comes off an upset win over previously-unbeaten Connor Barry by unanimous decision at “CES MMA 43” while Davis, a winner in his last four fights, makes his seventh appearance with CES MMA.
Also on the preliminary card, unbeaten featherweight Dylan Lockhard (3-0) of Hollis, N.H., faces Cortland, N.Y., vet Ahsan Abdullah (7-7, 3 KOs). Lockhard earned his first two wins as a pro under the guidance of CES MMA, including a first-round submission win over Russell Campbell at “CES MMA 40” in November.
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