Years ago, five-time world champion Vinny Paz passed the torch to Peter Manfredo Jr. as the new heir to the throne of New England boxing, and Manfredo Jr. delivered, winning 40 fights and garnering worldwide acclaim in an illustrious career that spanned more than a decade.
Nearly two years since hanging up his own gloves, Manfredo Jr. and the rest of Rhode Island’s boxing royalty are now lending their support to New England’s new generation of ring warriors, many of whom will appear on CES Boxing’s “Rhode To Redemption” card Friday, July 17th, 2015 at Twin River Casino.
Unbeaten welterweight Nick DeLomba, undefeated middleweight Khiary Gray and “Mr. Providence” himself Vladine Biosse have been tasked with carrying on the tradition of excellence in New England, a standard set decades ago by local legends Manfredo Jr., Paz and Gary “Tiger” Balletto.
“It takes the right guy, a guy that comes to fight and puts on a show. That’s what people want to see,” said Balletto, who won 26 fights by knockout and, along with Manfredo Jr., earned recognition for competing on The Contender reality television series.
“People don’t like to see great boxers. They like to see warriors. That’s what the three of us were.”
“We need a name — a big name — and we need him to be marketed well and he needs to win fights, be a little different than the average person,” added Paz, a five-time world champion who won his 50th fight at the age of 42. “I’m still waiting. I’m still waiting for the next ‘Pazmanian Devil’ to come around sooner rather than later.”
There’s potential for New England’s next great star to emerge July 17th. DeLomba, a Balletto protégé now 7-0 following a knockout win April 3rd over Joe Wilson Jr., faces his toughest test to date against 12-2 welterweight southpaw Juan Rodriguez Jr. of Union City, N.J. Gray, the Worcester, Mass., junior middleweight who also enters with a 7-0 record, fights for the eighth time in just 13 months in what will be his first six-round bout.
Headlining the event is Biosse (15-6-2, 7 KOs), returning to Providence for the first time in two years and facing another stiff test against hard-hitting super middleweight Chris Chatman of Jersey City, a fixture on the New England circuit since challenging former Olympian and current world champion Demetrius Andrade in 2009.
“To make it as a boxer, you need to be able to sell tickets and sell yourself,” Manfredo Jr. said. “We need someone that can get in there and fight and make it exciting. I think you’ve got potential with the guys coming up here.
“What we have to do is we have get some fans to come to these fights and actually watch these guys and get hooked on them and say, ‘I want to see this kid fight again!’ That’s all it’s going to take. You get a couple of people and the word will spread. Like I said, you have to have them be entertaining and sell tickets. It’s all about the style of the fighters.”
“Boxing is a trade. Not everybody can get up and go to work 40 hours a week. Not everybody is going to be a millionaire, a doctor, a lawyer. It’s a great trade to have and that’s how it started in the Great Depression. People did it for money. When I fought, I fought for money, my family, and when you have a passion for it like that, you want to see it succeed and do well.”
Balletto urges local fans to support the lesser-known talent working its way up the ladder, which would be a big step toward winning back those who’ve been turned off in recent years by the theatrics and politics of boxing at the mainstream level.
“I think boxing is for entertainment, just like football and baseball. We’re supposed to be entertainers. To fight the way Floyd Mayweather fought against [Manny] Pacquiao, it wasn’t fair to the fans. That’s not what anybody wants to see, someone running and not getting touched, not trying to knock your opponent out.
“I never not tried to knock my opponent out. That was the goal every time.”
Who will be Rhode Island’s next heir to throne? That remains to be seen, but the talent is there, and July 17th could be an opportunity for the new generation of stars to grab the spotlight.
“I think Nick DeLomba is the up-and-comer in Rhode Island. He can get in the ring with anyone,” Balletto said. “He has natural defense. You know as soon as you get in the ring with somebody if you can hit them or not. If somebody is easy to hit they’re not going to last long in boxing. You really can’t teach defense, just like you can’t teach a fighter how to punch harder.”
“Tough, tough kid. Good fighter,” Paz added. “He’s young. You know what a journey this is, all the things that one individual has to encompass? I was lucky I had great parents. I was lucky I was so strong. I was lucky I had natural, gifted talent and good people around me. There has to be a lot of skill and luck involved and a lot of heart.”
With Manfredo Jr., Balletto and Paz still playing a prominent role in helping New England boxing flourish, the sky’s the limit for July 17th and beyond. Even with the torch being passed to a new generation, the forefathers will always be a part of the fabric in the northeast. The tradition continues next Friday at Twin River.
“Boxing will always be No. 1 to me. It’ll always be something I have in my heart,” Manfredo Jr. said. “I loved doing it. Anytime we see someone come up and do well, especially from Providence, we’re going to back them. It’s exciting.
“[CES president] Jimmy [Burchfield Sr.] knows the ins and outs. He’s been doing this forever. He helped me with my career, he helped Vinny, he’s helped everyone in Rhode Island with their career. He’s a good-hearted guy and he knows what he’s doing. All of these guys that come here, Jimmy’s the guy. As long as they do their part, Jimmy will do his part.”
“Jimmy’s beautiful for the sport,” Paz added, “but Jimmy can’t make them fight. That’s the key.”