August 26, 2014

Marcos Maidana media conference call — "It's better for him to stop crying"

El Chino on the Money
Just a few weeks away from his scheduled September 13 rematch against Floyd Mayweather Jr, Marcos Maidana and his trainer Robert Garcia were asked by the boxing media if they in fact got this lucrative Mayweather redux because "El Chino" earned it in the first fight last May or because Money May needs an economically viable Pay-Per-View fight on Showtime. To his credit, Maidana was diplomatic in his response but the more outspoken Garcia was much more direct. "Floyd had no other options. He was forced to give us a rematch. There were no other names out there that made any sense to sell PPV's and to please the fans." 

Here are some of the topics that Maidana himself spoke on through a translator during a break from an 8-week training camp in Oxnard, CA that's included sparring with Mikey Garcia and Thomas Dulorme.  

On what this rematch means to him as a fighter: "I want to beat him this time. I let him get away the first fight. I'm going to be on him, forcing him to fight so I want him to stand and fight me like a man and stop running and crying like a little bitch."

Maidana says Mayweather does "things" in there
On what he'll do differently this time to ensure a win: "Focus on my distance control and not smother my own punches. I'll hit him on the arms and on the shoulders. He's going to be so tired from my punches that he won't be able to defend himself. I'm not going to get tired."

On what he'll do if Mayweather "runs" all night long instead of engaging: "I'm preparing for anything. I hope he stands and fights but if I have to chase that little bitch all around the ring again, I will."

On comparisons to the Mayweather-Castillo rematch, the only sequel of the undefeated Mayweather's career to this point: "I'm sure he can change and have a different game plan. I'm not going to change. Trying again, I'm hoping that I will be able to force him to fight."

On the notion that winning a decision against Mayweather is impossible: "I can win a decision or by knockout. The first fight was close, a split decision. When we first fought, I thought I wasn’t going to be able to see him, but I found him in the ring many times. I'll use more pressure this time, and win."

KO's Asterisk: All boxing quotes published through translation come with a free grain of salt.

Little bitch, little bitch, let me win

August 21, 2014

The Sweet Side of the Sweet Science - Women's Boxing Monthly Vol 15

Babyface Boxing's Beautiful Brawlers
By Mark A Jones -- Female boxers enlisted in the United States Army continue to impress as Alexandra Love and Rianna Rios won their weight classes in July at the National Women’s Golden Gloves Championships in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Fellow World Class Athlete Program (WCAP) teammates Fallon Farrar and Melissa Parker finished second in their respective weight classes; both are former National Champions.

On August 31 in Redwood City, California, Babyface Boxing presents, “Beautiful Brawlers IV,” an all-female boxing card featuring over 100 amateur boxers from Canada, Puerto Rico, and the United States. The third edition of the series held on August 31, 2013, featuring USA Boxing Olympian Queen Underwood, drew nearly 600 spectators including cameo appearances by professional boxers Ava Knight, Melissa McMorrow, and Carina Moreno. The chief architect of the Beautiful Brawlers series is Blanca Gutierrez, who wears many hats in the boxing scene which includes gym owner, coach, promoter, and she even manages heavyweight Martha "The Shadow" Salazar.

Watts was the big winner in Scotland
The 2014 Commonwealth Games were held in Glasgow, Scotland, on 23 July to 3 August. 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist Nicola Adams (England) won a close 2-1 decision over Michaela Walsh (Northern Ireland) to win the women’s flyweight (48-51 kg) class. Shelly Watts (Australia) won four fights in five days to win the lightweight class (57-60 kg) defeating Laishram Devi (India) by a 3-0 margin. 2012 Olympian Savannah Marshall (England) topped Ariane Fortin (Canada) for top honors in the middleweight (69-75 kg) class by a close 2-1 decision.

A Look Back At July 2014 in Women's Boxing:

On July 18 in Sedavi, Spain, vivacious light-middleweight Mikaela “Destiny” Lauren (22-3, 8 KOs) of Stockholm, Sweden, at a catchweight of 152 pounds, earned a WBC title opportunity with an eight-round decision victory over former title challenger, Kali Reis (6-3-1, 2 KOs) of Providence, RI, by the scores (77-74/77-75/77-75). Lauren enjoys excellent fan support in Europe and employed her size and experience to earn a slight advantage on the scorecards. Reis was competitive throughout, displaying enough boxing ability to keep the score close. With the win, Lauren will receive a shot at the vacant WBC light-middleweight title against Aleksandra Magdziak Lopes in Sweden in November.

Lauren earns a WBC title shot
KO Digest’s Top 5 Light Middleweights:

1- Anne Sophie Mathis (France)
2- Mikaela Lauren (Sweden)
3- Paola Gabriela Casalinuovo (Argentina)
4- Maria Lindberg (Sweden)
5- Kali Reis (USA)

On July 25 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Fernanda Soledad Alegre (20-1-1, 10 KOs) of Gonzalez Catan, Argentina, successfully defended the WBO female light-welterweight championship for the tenth time with a second round technical knockout of Dalia Vasarhelyi (9-6) of Budapest, Hungary. Alegre took over the fight shortly after the referee's instructions, relentlessly perusing her overwhelmed foe until the assigned referee Gustavo Tomas saved Vasarhelyi, who was helplessly trapped on the ropes, from further punishment near the end of round two. This wipeout was nothing more than an exercise to display the first-rate abilities of the 27-year-old champion who hopefully returns to defending against fighters on the level of former conquests Chris Namus and Enis Pacheco. For the 21-year-old challenger, it was her third unsuccessful attempt at a world title losing to Maria Elena Maderna (TKO-3) and Rola El Halabi (UD-10) previously.

Hammer couldn't keep Mathis off her all night
On July 27 at Anhalt Arena, Dessau, Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany, WBO & WBF middleweight champion, Christina Hammer (17-0, 8 KOs) Dortmund, Germany, was seemingly cruising to a decision victory over French power-puncher Anne Sophie Mathis (27-3, 23 KOs) when, in the fifth round, she was clubbed to the canvas by a legal rapid succession of right hands to the left ear by the free hand of Mathis during what constituted an unsuccessful attempt to clinch on the behalf of Hammer. The omnipresent assigned referee Manfred Kuechler was grossly out of position during the beat down having an excellent view of the French battler’s back. He failed to initiate a count out of Hammer; instead, he halted the contest determining that Hammer was unable to continue and disqualified Mathis for illegal blows to the back of the head awarding Hammer the WBF light-middleweight title, which Mathis was defending, and the vacant WBO female light-middleweight title.

During the battle, as expected, Hammer fought well from long-range enabling her to evade the leads of Mathis with her superior movement. Mathis delivered better than she received at close-range causing Hammer, who appeared uncomfortable at close-quarters, to clinch; a skill she has yet to master. During the fight, both fighters received warnings for numerous fouls by a heavy-handed referee that was excessive in his admonishment for insignificant violation of the rules. In the end, the sanctioning commission (Bund Deutscher Berufsboxer- BDB) changed the result to “no contest” admitting that mistakes were made affecting the result. Mathis keeps her WBF light-middleweight strap, and Hammer maintains control of the WBO & WBF middleweight titles. The WBO did not order a rematch since Hammer is the organization's reigning middleweight champion.

Shibata is the winner and still champion
On August 2 at the Adachi Ward Sogo Sports Center in Tokyo, Japan, Naoko Shibata, 106 ¾, of Tokyo, defended her IBF female light-flyweight title by stopping veteran Mexican contender Ana Arrazola, 107, in the ninth round of a scheduled ten. At the time of the stoppage, Shibata led on the scorecards by an impressive margin (79-73/79-73/78-74). Shibata is quietly one of the best fighters in women’s boxing. Of her three losses, two were closely contested defeats to Ibeth Zamora-Silva (SD-10) and Etsuko Tada (UD-10). The other, a 2010 defeat to Naoko Fuijoka. For Arrazola (20-10-2, 13 KOs), who has fought the best from minimumweight to light-flyweight suffered her first stoppage loss. With the win, Shibata moves to (13-3, 3 KOs) and will look to defend her title against top contenders Sanae Jah (IBF #2) or Jessica Chavez (IBF #3).

On the undercard, southpaw Momo Koseki, 101, of Tokyo, defended her WBC female atomweight title (102 lbs.) for a record-breaking 14th time with an eight-round demolition of Muay-Thai star Denise Castle, 101 ¼, of Bournemouth, UK. The fight was halted at the 2:09 mark of the eighth of a scheduled ten when referee determined that Castle (2-1, 2 KOs) had absorbed too much punishment to continue. Koseki (19-2-1, 6 KOs) was leading by the identical score of (70-63) on each scorecard. With the win, Koseki surpasses Yoko Gushiken’s thirteen defenses to become the Japanese fighter with the most-successful title defenses.

Sweet Side Quick Hits for July/August: 

Bosques now has a belt
On July 17 Carolina Raquel Duer (17-3-1, 5 KOs) landed enough big shots to win a ten-round unanimous decision over Ana Lozano (8-2) retaining her WBO female bantamweight title. It was Duer’s second defense of the bantamweight strap. She previously held the WBO female super-flyweight title defending it successfully six times before elevating to bantamweight. On July 26 Anabel Ortiz (15-3, 3 KOs) stopped contender Neisi Torres (12-3-1, 8 KOs) in the third round retaining her WBA female minimumweight title for the second time. Noemi Bosques (6-1-2, 2 KOs) won her first minor title stopping Yolaine Lin de Lauf (6-2) in the third round of their scheduled eight round affair. Bosques scored two knockdowns in the third round before the referee stoppage. Former light-middleweight champion, Jennifer Retzke (15-1-1, 9 KOs) won the vacant IBO welterweight title with a ten-round, split-decision over Florence Muthoni (11-4-1, 5 KOs). Carolina Rodriguez (13-0, 1 KO) defended her IBF bantamweight title with a split-decision over slugger Dayana Cordero (13-5-1, 9 KOs).

A Look Ahead To August 2014 in Women's Boxing:

On August 23 in Coacalco, Mexico, on a card dubbed, “Duel of Queens” Jessica “Kika” Chavez (20-3-3, 4 KOs) of Mexico City will battle “Mighty” Melissa McMorrow (9-4-2, 1 KO) of San Francisco, USA, for the vacant WBC International female flyweight title. Stylistically, this is an excellent matchup boasting the counter-punching ability of Chavez versus the close-range, volume-punching of McMorrow.

As it is in women’s boxing, a record does not always indicate to what level a fighter can compete. A quick look under the hood of McMorrow’s career reveals that she usually engages top-level competition often in the opponent’s home town. Her in-your-face aggressive fighting style has enabled her to upset two German-based world champions in Nadia Raoui, a boxer-puncher, and Susi Kentikian, a fellow volume-puncher, in Germany. McMorrow is equally adept at handling all boxing styles requiring her opponents to make the necessary adjustments. In her last effort, McMorrow lost a closely-contested, ten-round unanimous decision to Mexican boxing superstar, Mariana “Barbie” Juarez in Mexico.

Chavez is undefeated in her last eleven bouts with only a November 2013 split-draw with Mexican slugger Arely Mucino as the lone blemish. Chavez is widely considered among the pound-for-pound best in the sport holding wins over Yesica Yolanda Bopp, Irma Sanchez, and Katia Gutierrez. Most recently, she won a unanimous decision over ten rounds against former WBA light-flyweight champion, Tenkai Tsunami of Japan. The three losses on the docket of Chavez are to Ibeth Zamora Silva, Esmeralda Moreno, and Bopp, each a present of former pound-for-pound entry. The 26-year-old Chavez is nearing the prime of her career and is a multi-dimensional fighter who discovers a method to prevail in the fights she is favored to win.

Chavez will win a close one according to Mark Jones
McMorrow, 33, will try to get inside and attempt to sit there and force Chavez to match her high punch volume. Chavez should make the proper adjustments, denying McMorrow inside position, and thereby enabling her to control enough of the action at medium to long range to persuade the judges to see things her way.

Prediction: Chavez UD-10 McMorrow (6-4 or 7-3 in rounds).

On 23 August in Villa Ballester, Argentina, in the main event of a card containing two high profile female bouts, Marcela Eilana “La Tigresa” Acuna (41-6-1, 18 KOs) of Caseros, will defend her WBO female super-bantamweight title in a scheduled ten round contest against Edith Soledad Matthysse (12-6-1, 1 KO) of Trelew. This fight is a rematch of their May 2013 battle where Acuna dominated the action winning nine of the ten rounds on each scorecard. Matthysse won the WBA female featherweight title in December with a unanimous decision victory over Ogleidis Suarez. She is reducing in weight to super-bantam to challenge Acuna in hopes of adding a championship belt in a second weight class to her record. At 34, she is the older sister to former WBC light-welterweight champion, Lucas Martin Matthysse. The older sister owns the same aggressive streak as her more credentialed brother, but that is where the comparison ends. Edith Soledad has one knockout victory in nineteen professional outings, but her aggressive tactics have enabled her to defeat world champions Daniela Romina Bermudez and Suarez. After losing her first two professional bouts to Christy Martin (UD-10) and Lucia Rijker (KO-5), Acuna has built a certain Hall of Fame career boasting an incredible 6 ½ year run as the dominate super-bantamweight champion of the sport (2006-12) defeating Alicia Ashley, Alejandra Marina Oliveras, and Jackie Nava along the way. In her last action, Acuna stopped contender Estrella Valverde (TKO-6) to retain her WBO title. Acuna is a master counter-puncher and at 37-years-old, remains one of the pound-for-pound best in women’s boxing. Acuna, as she did in their first meeting, will exploit the straight-line aggressive style of Matthysse, moving just enough to evade her advances and expertly countering with her full arsenal of punches. Acuna wins nine of ten rounds routing Matthysse. Prediction: Acuna UD-10 Matthysse (9-1 in rounds).

On the undercard, Erica “La Pantera” Farias (19-1, 9 KOs) of Virreyes, Argentina, battles the “Rough & Ready” TBA in a non-title bout scheduled for ten rounds. It will be the first fight back for the former WBC female lightweight champion since losing her title in her 12th defense to Delfine Persoon in April. The card is scheduled to be televised by Argentina TyC Sports.

Will Nava be too slick for Ashley?
On September 6 in Mexico City, Mexico, Alicia “Slick” Ashley (21-9-1, 3 KOs) of Westbury, New York, defends the WBC female super-bantamweight title against Mexican superstar Jackie “La Princesa Azteca” Nava (29-4-3, 13 KOs) of Tijuana. The 46-year-old Ashley, who will turn 47 by fight night, has the distinction as the second oldest reigning world boxing champion behind only Bernard Hopkins (49). However, Ashly is relegated to a secondary position to very few in boxing in terms of defensive ability; she sits on top of women’s boxing as the best defensive fighter in the game. Undefeated since 2010, Ashley has won her last seven contests, the longest such streak of her career. Holding career-defining wins over Marcela Eliana Acuna (twice), Elena Reid, and IWBHF inductee Bonnie Canino only adds to her credibility as a reigning champion. It will be the fourth defense of the WBC title for Ashley. The 34-year-old Nava, in May, returned to the ring after a two-year hiatus (child birth) and became a super-bantamweight champion for the fifth time winning the interim WBA version with an impressive dismantling of former champion, Alys Sanchez (KO-7). Nava, who is susceptible to knockdowns, hit the canvas briefly in the first round but rallied scoring four knockdowns of her own in route to an impressive victory. Nava is a stalking mid-range, left-hook artist with bristling punching power with the ability to lead or counter. She is at her best when forcing her opponents back to the ropes where her lack of lateral movement is more difficult to exploit; Nava is front-foot heavy.

Unlike the Sanchez fight, Nava will find it difficult to land a meaningful glove on Ashley, a southpaw, due to the champion’s efficient lateral movement, excellent upper body flexibility, and deft right jab. Although she possesses significantly more firepower, Nava, to battle on an even footing in the middle of the ring, will have to increase her punch volume and force the Ashley into enough exchanges along the ropes to sway the judges to favor her. At a natural site, this is a pick’em fight. In Mexico, Nava will get the benefit of the doubt and win a closely-contested, but comfortable decision. Losing a close fight on the road is not a new experience for Ashley, who has arguably lost only a fraction of the nine defeats posted to her official record.

This match, scheduled on the undercard of Juan Francisco Estrada versus Giovani Segura WBA & WBO World flyweight championship fight, will be one of two high-profile female bouts on the card. Also appearing in a ten-round title bout will be the ever-popular, Mariana “Barbie” Juarez, facing an unnamed opponent in defense of her WBC International super-flyweight title. Juarez is recovering nicely from a shoulder injury and should be ready to defend her title on this card. Rumors are still swirling about the prospects of a super-fight between Juarez and WBC female super-flyweight champion Zulina Munoz (42-1-2, 27 KOs).

Prediction: Nava UD-10 Ashley (6-4 in rounds). 

Nava is predicted to prevail
KO Digest’s Top 5 Super Bantamweights (122 lbs.):

1- Marcela Eilana Acuna (Argentina)
2- Jackie Nava (Mexico)
3- Alicia Ashley (USA)
4- Yesica Patricia Marcos (Argentina)
5- Sabrina Perez (Argentina) 

On September 13 in Copenhagen, Denmark, in the co-main event of a Sauerland Promotions “Nordic Fight Night” card, the consensus pound-for-pound #1 boxer in women’s boxing, Cecilia “First Lady” Braekhus (25-0, 7 KOs) of Bergen, Norway, defends her WBA, WBC, and WBO female welterweight titles against IBF female welterweight champion Ivana Habazin (13-1, 5 KOs) of Zagreb, Croatia. Habazin’s IBF welterweight strap is also in play. The 32-year-old Braekhus, in the prime of her career, with a victory, will gain control of each of the “big four” welterweight titles. After her dominating points victory over Jessica Balogun in June, Braekhus stated publically, ‘’I would like to fight for the IBF belt next,” said Braekhus. ‘’I already hold the WBC, WBA & WBO titles and now I want to unify the division and become the first female fighter to hold all four belts.’’ During her four-year career, Habazin, 24, pounded her way to the IBF title by beating a group of pretenders with only two owning winning records. Like most European fighters, she attempts to fight at long-range coaxing her opponents into taking all the risk and countering when the opponent sits inside her range. She is too slow of hand and foot to employ this strategy against Braekhus, who owns a ridiculous speed advantage. Prediction: Braekhus will dispense with her usual niceties and stop Habazin within six rounds to look impressive in what is likely her final fight at welterweight. Braekhus TKO-6 Habazin

On the undercard, “The Swedish Princess” Klara Svensson (13-0, 5 KOs) will receive her first shot at a world title when she battles slugger Marie Riederer (15-1-1, 10 KOs) for the interim WBC World light-welterweight title. "I have been waiting for this opportunity for a long time," said Svensson. "I am happy to finally get a chance to fight for the World title. I am expecting a tough fight. On paper, Riederer is the best opponent I have faced so far in my career but I am looking forward to the challenge." To date, neither fight has faced respectable competition both piling up wins over ordinary competition.
In June 2010, Riederer stepped up in competition and lost decisively to Christina Hammer (KO-5).

Sweet Side Quick Hits for August-September:

On August 29 in Maracay, Venezuela, Arely Valente (12-1-1, 6 KOs) of Mexico will face Mayerlin Rivas (9-3-1, 6 KOs) of Venezuela, for the interim WBA female bantamweight title. Rivas failed in two attempts at world titles whereas Valente is receiving her first shot at a world title belt. On August 30 in La Pampa, Argentina, former longtime WBA female light-welterweight champion, Monica Silvina Acosta (19-1-2, 5 KOs) will battle fellow Argentine Marisa Gabriela Nunez (6-5-2) for the vacant IBF female light-welterweight title. Also on August 30 in Peru, Peruvian-born “Triple L” Linda Laura Lecca (10-2-1, 3 KOs) will meet Guadalupe Martinez (7-6, 3 KOs) of Mexico for the interim WBA female super-flyweight title. Future superstar Kenia Enriquez (11-0, 6 KOs) of Tijuana, Mexico, will battle veteran trial horse Mayela Perez (11-15-4, 7 KOs) in San Diego on September 4. It will mark the third time that the 20-year-old Enriquez has fought in San Diego. 

KO Digest Dynamite Dozen Top 12 Pound For Pound Ratings:

Month after month, Braekhus is still pound for pound #1
1- Cecilia Braekhus 25-0, 7 KOs (Norway)
2- Marcela Eilana Acuna 41-6-1, 18 KOs (Argentina)
3- Anne Sophie Mathis 27-3, 23 KOs (France)
4- Yesica Yoland Bopp 27-1, 12 KOs (Argentina)
5- Delfine Persoon 29-1, 13 KOs (Belgium)
6- Diana Prazak 13-2, 9 KOs (Australia/USA)
7- Jackie Nava 29-4-3, 13 KOs (Mexico)
8- Christina Hammer 17-0, 8 KOs (Germany)
9- Erica Anabella Farias 19-1, 9 KOs (Argentina)
10- Jelena Mrdjenovich 32-9-1, 16 KOs (Canada)
11- Naoko Fujioka 12-0, 6 KOs (Japan)
12- Ibeth Zamora-Silva 20-5, 8 KOs (Mexico)

"The Sweet Side of the Sweet Science" is written by women's boxing expert Mark A. Jones -- exclusively for KO Digest. You can find more of Mark's female fight coverage on his women's boxing blog:  Boxing Jones 

August 1, 2014

KO Digest Interview: Gary Balletto - “ I never knew how loved I was ”

The Grandson of Hitman Tiger Balletto
Working seven days a week with rigorous physical tests, focused on one goal and traveling over 400 miles away from his home in (divine) Providence, Rhode Island to Baltimore, it feels as though Gary Balletto is at camp training for a fight. In a way, he is. However, this fight is more important than any he  had in a decade long career in the boxing ring.

This fight is not one against a world class opponent that can be won by studying film. Like all but two of the fights on his record (31-3-2, 26 KOs) it is being fought close to home, but this time, it’s more personal.

Gary Balletto wants to walk again.

The small-town, small-state hero was beloved by much of New England for his fierce, never-give-up fighting style and peak physical condition. He’ll need both of those things more than ever to combat an injury suffered in July of 2013 that paralyzed him in his own backyard.

Hearing him talk about it is heartbreaking, but he doesn’t want your sympathy—only the continued support that has been overwhelming from not only the boxing community but the entire region as well. Only 39 years old, Balletto has already accomplished a lot. He won Golden Gloves titles in southern New England, he fought on national television multiple times and was a big ticket seller in the area en route to accruing smaller titles. He staged a comeback to fight on the reality TV show “The Contender,” starred in his own documentary film, and was training to break a fitness world record before the accident.

But there’s still one big accomplishment left to come, one that seems miles away but begins with literally one single step.

And like any brave fighter, Balletto will never stop trying to get back up on his feet to take it. 

Beaten to the end by Goyo, Gary never gave up
KO Digest's Joel Sebastianelli: Your injury had a sudden and profound impact on your life one year ago. Take us through the circumstances and how your life has changed.

Gary Balletto: It was the scariest feeling I ever had. My life changed completely as a result of the accident. Last year, I was in phenomenal shape. I always took care of my body with conditioning and weight training. For me now, the biggest thing that bothers me is that my body doesn’t look right. I was very fussy. I like perfect symmetry. I ate the right nutrition, I never drank or smoked, and do to all of that stuff and take such good care of my body and then get paralyzed from the waist down? I don’t have use of my hands, my muscles are getting atrophy. It bothers me to look in the mirror more than anything. This happened in my backyard. My seven year old son, at the time, was in the boxing gym about a week before the accident. He had never done pull-ups, so I put him on the bar and I told him that his older brother could probably do 10 pull-ups at that age, so let me see how many you can do. He did 20.

A week later on a Sunday, we were home. We just had pancakes for breakfast. I went outside to play with my youngest. I found this bar, an old piece of a trampoline. I wedged it between two trees and had a screw gun to put a couple of screws around the bar into the tree for him to practice and do pull-ups. At this time, I was also practicing to break the world record for pull-ups done in one minute, so I figured I could use a pull-up bar at home too—but it was really for him to play on in the yard. I said “let me show you how to spin around the bar.” Just on my hands, with my arms straight, I spin around once and although the bar was flimsy, I didn’t fall. He asked me to do it again so he could see where my hands were. The second time I spun around the bar, it crashed straight down to the ground and I landed completely the wrong way. Immediately on impact I broke my neck and was paralyzed that second. I knew it. I knew as soon as I hit. I couldn’t move my legs, I couldn’t move my hands.

Balletto looked like the Micky Ward of Rhode Island
KOD: Your entire life has been spent in Rhode Island, a state not known for producing many notable boxers with the exception of Vinny Pazienza and Peter Manfredo Jr, how did boxing wind up in your life? 

GB: I started boxing at the age of thirteen, but it was something that I always thought I should be doing because my grandfather and father were boxers, but they weren’t around to teach me boxing. My father died when I was ten years old but I knew the sport ran in my family so I eventually tried it myself when I was thirteen. I ended up being very good at it. At the age of 18, I was taking boxing more seriously and I moved from Florida back to Rhode Island after I finished high school. When I came back and joined this gym, my goal was to win a Golden Gloves boxing title at Southern New England. I trained for this for almost three months and in the finals, I knocked my opponent out 40 seconds into the first round. I didn’t know how talented I was until that point, when I won the Golden Gloves like it was so easy. I won numerous titles in New England in tournaments, always against the best in the area.
I finished with a record of 13-2, with both losses coming against national number ones.

KOD: The majority of your career was spent with Jimmy Burchfield and CES. How much of an impact has CES had on the regional boxing landscape over the years, given that there is so little boxing in the state of Rhode Island?

GB: CES was the only show in town at the time, so there was no place better to be as a New England fighter. Jimmy Burchfield and I are very close. He’s a great man, he’s been good to me throughout my career. We’re still very close friends today.

KOD: In your decade long career, you only had two fights outside New England, with most of them coming in either Rhode Island or Connecticut. How important was fighting at home to you and do you feel that gave you an advantage?

Balletto appreciates what Mr. B does to help
GB: Fighting at home definitely gave me an advantage to have my hometown crowd there. But, as I said many times when I fought on ESPN, I was always in my local town because my promoter was the one doing the show. I was a very big ticket seller. I understand why he wanted me on those shows, but it doesn’t matter where in the world you fight—if you’re on television, everybody is going to see you. I was never on the road as an opponent. It just so happened that all my fights were in New England.

KOD: You never won a major world title, and outside of Friday Night Fights and the Contender, haven’t received a lot of national attention. But, ask people in the region about some of their favorite fighters from the area and you name frequently comes up. What qualities do you think made those fans latch onto you and stay with you through the years?

GB: I think people liked to watch me because I was exciting. I would take a chance, even if it was taking punches. No matter what you do in life, if you never take a chance, you’re never going to get to that next level. I tried to knock my opponent out in every single fight. That was my main goal, and knockouts are what people want to see. Most people don’t enjoy watching a boxing match. I always felt if I didn’t knock my opponent out, I didn’t really win.

KOD: In 2006, at the end of your career, you were featured on season 2 of “The Contender.” How did the opportunity to fight on the show come about, and how did the experience differ from a typical fighting experience away from the show?

GB: The day before the last tryout in New York City, I got a call from promoter Rich Cappiello. He promoted me at the beginning of my career before I signed with Mr. B, and he said “Gary, I got the word their fighting close to welterweight. I think you should come with me tomorrow and go to this tryout. I know that you’re going to get picked.” I had to go back and talk to my wife about it. I was retired almost three years from boxing, and we decided together that I shouldn’t fight anymore because of the damage that had been done to my body. I first had to convince my wife to let me go because we weren’t boxing anymore. I convinced her to let me go, that it was just a tryout with a friend of mine, and that they probably weren’t going to pick me anyway. Soon enough, I heard they were going to pick me and a couple of weeks later I got the phone call that they liked me and decided to go with the weight class and were going to send me to another tryout to narrow it down. Another week or so went by, and they invited me to LA for another tryout with sparring and numerous tests for eight days. They invited 37 fighters and narrowed it down to 16 going by personalities, how you are on camera, medical fitness, and other things they used to make a good TV show.

KOD: What was it like to actually be on the show from the reality TV angle behind the scenes?

Celebration turned into tragedy for Tiger
GB: That experience was very different for me because it was almost like going to a training camp, which is something I never did outside of my own gym. I actually learned a lot by being around other great fighters and watching their regimens. I was surprised that the training was not as intense as I had done my whole life. These guys that were in the top 20 in the world didn’t train hard. It was more technical than anything else. Now that I look back on my career, if I mastered my technical boxing as I mastered my strength and conditioning, I think I would have been a better fighter.

I actually had a lot of experience being on film. I starred in a documentary film prior to the TV show called “Sweet Dreams,” so I had a camera follow me for almost five years and it wasn’t something different for me. Unfortunately, when I fought on “the Contender,” it was at the end of my career. I actually retired from boxing in 2003 and the Contender didn’t happen until 2006, so I had three years of nothing and jumped into a TV with one month of training. Had this happened at the right time, my career would have wound up in a much different place if the show happened in 2003 or in my weight classes instead of a few weight classes higher than my ideal weight.

KOD: In its fairly short run, The Contender did a good job of bringing boxing into the spotlight and attracting casual fans, but boxing shows don’t seem to stick around for long in any format, including reality TV and scripted. Is there any reason in particular that you think boxing shows struggle to attract and keep viewers?

This show would be the most viewed to maybe you and me, but I guess the majority of the population wouldn’t view. I thought it was the greatest show on TV and I don’t understand why the viewings went down and there eventually weren’t enough viewers to keep it on. It was exciting. It was as real as it gets, and there wasn't a better show to show that boxing is a man’s sport. Growing up, if you got into a fight in the street, you fought with your hands. If you went to the ground and the guy was kicking you or choking you, it was cheating. Now, MMA is here but I look back at fighting as a kid and fights didn’t happen like that, they happened by standing up and fighting. Boxing is a man’s sport. I thought it would be viewed more than it was.

KOD: You’re in one of the nation’s top rehab programs right now. Do the doctors think you will ever be able to walk again?

GB: No. No. There’s no doctor that thinks I will walk again, and they’re not allowed to give their opinion on that anyway, but sometimes they do. There’s only one doctor that thinks I’ll walk again. He’s not my practicing doctor—he was Christopher Reeve’s doctor and he doesn’t practice anymore. But, he owns the facility we go to in Baltimore. It’s always nice to hear that and you hope for the best, but no, statistically, I’ll never walk again. However, I’m not planning on statistics. I think I was one of the most perfectly trained athletes ever, so for me, I don’t think there was anybody in better shape at the time when they broke their neck than I was. I hope that means something. I hope that my doctors say that means something, the shape I was in.

KOD: What goals do you have on the rebound from injury? You’ve certainly come a long way, but what struggles lie ahead?

Tiger Junior hits the bag for Dad
GB: My goal would be to walk again. It’s almost impossible to put a time on that, I’ve realized. It’s a long process for nerves to grow back and reconnect. It’s a very, very long process. I thought I would be walking already with my therapy by pushing it to the limits like a fight. I do seven days a week of very intense physical therapy, which is what this program I am in told me to do. They said hardcore therapy will get you better, which is perfect for me because that’s all I know. I have improved in all parts of my body’s strength. Everything that is actually working gets stronger, and I actually have an improvement in my motor as far as moving. My fingers are starting to twitch which is new, and I have movement in my stomach. I can’t do a sit-up, but I have the muscles triggering at the T5 level, which is below the level of injury. It’s a great sign. I’m a little frustrated, but I’m definitely making progress in this very slow process.

KOD: Fighters fight. Having fought for many years in the ring, is there a mentality from boxing that you’ve taken with you and applied to rehab that helps you stay strong during this difficult time?

GB: It's automatically in my nature to train hard. I already know how to train and all the exercises I need to do. When I work with these therapists, it’s not like they teach me anything, they’re just there to help me get through it. I see a physical therapist three days a week, but I train the other four days on my own with special adaptive equipment recommended by Baltimore. There is a bike that is electric stimulation that moves my legs so I can maintain the muscle in my legs. The arms I can do myself. I don’t have my hands to grab onto something for pulling exercise, but I have adaptive gloves I can use to do that. I know how to work the muscles in my body, and that’s what they tech you at physical therapy. I’m one step ahead there.

Fun, fast, always came to fight
KOD: Were you surprised by how many people in the boxing community embraced you and your family after the accident? What has that experience been like for you?

GB: Not only did the boxing community embrace me, but my home state Rhode Island embraced me. It’s amazing the support that I have and the friends that I have through this problem. I never knew how loved of a person I was, to be honest with you.

KOD: Your son is following in your footsteps and is currently fighting as an amateur. Boxing is obviously a physically taxing sport. Were you always supportive of Gary Jr’s goals to get in the ring, or did you hope he’d pick another sport over boxing?

GB: Absolutely. You said it exactly. I hoped he would pick another sport to do. I never pushed the sport of boxing on my son. I didn’t want him doing it, but I never said he couldn’t and he completely made his own choice. When he was younger, he didn’t like it and said it was stupid because he thought MMA was the way to go. He wrestled since he was six years old and had the background to be an MMA fighter with Thai boxing and judo. In February of last year, he pulled a groin muscle training and ever since then, he was waiting for it to heal and after seeing a doctor, he has a piece of his muscle detached from the bone near the groin area and he needs a surgery that he has put off since then. But, he realized that boxing doesn’t affect his groin, and he decided that he wants to box and follow in his father’s footsteps. It’s really exciting for me, but at the same time, I don’t really want him fighting.

KOD: What role have you been able to play in his career thus far, and how much potential do you think he has?

Balletto is a proud family man   
GB: I was training him up until I hurt myself along with my old boxing trainer, Kurt Reader. I always give him my point of view, but I wanted him to learn from more than one person. I had one trainer my whole career, but I think it’s important to learn from different trainers because you take a little bit from each one. I want to be there as a second person to tell him what I think at the same time, but not have that relationship with him.
I want to be his father still.

KOD: What defines you in or out of the ring that you are most proud of? 

GB: I’m most proud of my family. I couldn’t be happier with my three kids and my wife, and I have so many friends. I think that having the right attitude throughout life is important. I’ve always been a giver and helped people, and it has paid back in so many ways by doing the right thing throughout my life, especially when something like this happens.

The Future of Boxing

KO Digest Interview conducted by Joel "The Future" Sebastianelli

Joel joined KO Digest in January 2013 and has been a fixture on press row in the New England area for three years. In 2012, he served as the host of “The Boxing Fix” on Leave it in the Ring Radio. Sebastianelli is the future of boxing journalism and broadcasting.

Joel can be found Tweeting on Twitter @JJSebastianelli