Gary Balletto Fights Back

By Ted Sares on December 18, 2013
Gary Balletto Fights Back
Let's join together to help Gary Balletto and his family through some tough times.

“There was nothing flashy. He was not some star-in-his-own-movie type that boxing is so famous for. He was married to his high school sweetheart…”

“When he got hurt, it hurt me…He might never be able to walk again, so I thought it’d be nice to come back and fight for him while I can still walk, talk and move.”—Peter Manfredo

“I’m extremely confident. I’m going to do whatever it takes.”—Gary Balletto

Tiger Balletto had a lot of great fights…Now our fight starts.”—Jimmy Burchfield who is leading efforts to assist the Balletto family

“There was nothing flashy. He was not some star-in-his-own-movie type that boxing is so famous for. He was married to his high school sweetheart. They had two young children. And he never had any pretense that boxing was the sport of kings. It was just something he was good at, something he almost seemed to stumble into.”—Bill Reynolds (Providence Journal)

Gary “Tiger” Balletto was 31-3-2 when he retired in December 2006 after stopping Matthew Strode (20-1) in Providence, RI. Gary’s final KO percentage was an impressive 72%. He now owns a successful construction and real estate company, and also owns and operates a Providence boxing gym, but everything has been put on hold as he fights with uncommon courage to recover from a backyard accident that left him in critical condition this past summer. Gary, now in a wheelchair, is trying to make the comeback of his life.

The Boxer

“…Balletto is known in his Providence, Rhode Island neighborhood as a throwback to an older generation of Italian fighters. He brings a rugged work-ethic, a style of non-stop aggression, and a dynamite left hook into the ring, an exciting mix.”—Jason Rhodes (ESB)

I always enjoyed the way in which Gary would impose his warrior-like will over his opponents by simply attacking from the get-go and stalking them until he had them cornered. He was a stalk, stun and close sort of boxer and I especially enjoy watching that type. He did his work in a blue collar sort of way but it was a very effective way. In fact, the sinewy and athletic Tiger had gone undefeated in his first 27 outings before losing to tough Michael Clark (28-2) at Foxwoods in October 2002. But in 2003, he won the vacant IBU lightweight title with a first round KO of Johnny Walker and defended it twice before relinquishing it to rugged Gregorio ”Goyo” Vargas (43-7) by razor thin MD. Vargas was the former WBC Featherweight champion and IBA Super Featherweight champion and had fought Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2009. Even in defeat, this may have been Gary’s best career effort. “I had blurred vision for a month after that fight,” he remarked.

After a long layoff, the Tiger came back in 2006 to participate in the ESPN reality show “The Contender” and won his first-round fight after Aaron Torres unwisely chose him as an opponent, but in his second bout, Norberto Bravo beat him by unanimous decision. Gary won his last professional fight in December 2006 by stopping Matthew Strode (20-1), but wisely retired after the fight to devote his time to other activities and in this sense, he was something of a renaissance man.

Outside the Ring

“Indeed, it’s outside of the ring that Balletto truly shines. Here, we see a portrait of a man whose sensitivity appears to be a complete inversion of the ferocity which he displays once he climbs through the ropes. At the beginning of the film, Balletto pays an emotional tribute to close friend and fellow boxer Bobby Tomasello, who died in October, 2000 after slipping into a coma at the conclusion of a 10-round fight which was televised on ESPN.”—Rhodes

In 2008, Gary appeared at the IFC Theater in New York City to promote a feature verite documentary “Sweet Dreams.” Gary was deeply impacted when he witnessed the ring death of his friend Bobby Tomasello in 2000 in a fight against Steve Dotse. It inspired him to help make and star in this well-received movie which also deals with Balletto’s daunting, albeit largely unsuccessful efforts, to unionize the sport through the Joint Association of Boxers (J.A.B.) in cooperation with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.” 

Says the astute Rhodes who is a freelance writer from Athens, Georgia:

“Win, lose, or draw, Balletto has already proven himself. He’s a fighter with a heart that seems to have been handed down from another era, a loving husband and father in a manner that could perhaps be summarized as drop the machismo, and be a man, and an effective spokesperson for justice in a sport that so desperately needs more like him. Sweet Dreams is an ambitious, brilliantly executed film, and one which left me wondering, after all the human drama and exhilarating ring action, what I could do, as a boxing fan, to contribute to the struggle of making justice and respect for boxers not just a dream, but reality.”

As for Ghana’s Dotse, Tomasello’s final opponent, he was devastated by his opponent’s death, and he himself became the subject of a video titled “Ring of Fire.” 

On August 22, Gary was inducted into the prestigious CES Ring of Honor during a special ceremony at the Twin River Events Center in Lincoln, Rhode Island, Said Jimmy Burchfield, “We’re proud to honor Gary ‘Tiger’ Balletto, one of New England’s most exciting fighters ever,” Burchfield said. “Gary was a true warrior who could hit with the best of them. Few fighters in the past 20 years were as charismatic as ‘Tiger,’ who was a true throwback fighter that always left it all in the ring. And he was as tough as they come, too. Nobody stopped him in 36 pro fights.”

The Accident

Then this past July, the Tiger was showing his son a gymnastic move on the trampoline at his Cranston, Rhode Island home when he fell off and landed on the ground, fracturing three vertebrae in his neck. Balletto had been training to try to break the world record for the number of pull-ups done within a minute, Gary underwent a lengthy operation at Rhode Island Hospital where it was determined that one of the breaks involved the bone at the top of his spine, closest to his head. The injury was a critical one.

“The doctor,[ unsure if he will walk again], told me there’s only one other person he’s treated that broke C-1 and survived in 30 years,” Balletto says. “I feel lucky.” He spent more than three months in two hospitals, first Rhode Island Hospital, and then the outstanding Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston. “I cried every single day for the first six weeks. And then all of a sudden I stopped crying and realized it’s not a dream anymore.”

Now finally back home and undergoing hours of grueling therapy and mounting medical expenses, Gary says he has feeling in his legs, “if you squeeze real hard” he says. Reportedly, he can move his arms and has limited use of his hands. This link—somewhat difficult to watch (at least for me it was) —shows the deep and endearing love and hope Gary shares with his wife, Christina, who says “he is not text book so I can’t believe the doctors. They don’t know him…It’s going to be a long road, a real tough road but he will definitely recover.

On November 7, 2013, CES Boxing and the Dunkin’ Donuts Center hosted “A Night for the Tiger” in honor and support of GARY. Master of Ceremonies was Teddy Atlas who did his usual great job. Other boxing luminaries in attendance included Vinny Paz, “Irish” Micky Ward, and Peter Manfredo Jr. An amazing crowd of nearly 1,000 people attended and showed that Rhode Island and boxing people know how to walk the walk and help one of their own.

Ring 10

Some have asked me if there is a way to help Gary after the November Fundraiser. The answer is yes. Ring 10 in New York City is at least one way boxing fans can reach out and help the Balletto family. See: 631-948-6028 or send an email to Also, checks can be made to Ring 10 (memo: Gary Balletto) send to Ring 10, 30 Bowdon Rd., Greenlawn NY 11740.

Let’s join together to help Gary and his family through some tough times.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Balletto fundraiser

"Chip of the ol' block" - Cranston boxer Gary Balletto Jr.

Norberto Bravo VS Gary Balletto

Gary Balletto VS Aaron Torres

Gary Balletto World Boxing IBU Champion does 47 pull-ups in one set.

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  1. Ted 06:09am, 12/20/2013

    Thanks, John. Great post

  2. John aka L.L. Cool John 08:00pm, 12/19/2013

    A very touching and emotional story, Ted. I didn’t follow the career of Gary Balletto but if anyone can learn to walk again, I’m sure he can.  I was just reading the other day about political conservative pundit Charles Krauthammer. During his college days he dove into the shallow end of a swimming pool and he’s been in a wheelchair ever since. Life is so fragile and can change in a matter of seconds. This is a great story to remember on this Christmas holiday. Good luck to you, Gary.

  3. Ted 04:07pm, 12/19/2013

    Richard, that’s why I belong to Ring 10. It’s there for guys like Gary, Frankie Lea’s family , and Mago. God bless Matt for all he does.

  4. Richard Schwartz 03:18pm, 12/19/2013

    I don’t know Gary personally, but our president, Matt Farrago, of Ring 10, Veteran Boxers Foundation Of New York, mentioned the accident that Gary had at one of our monthly meetings. We will be there for Gary and help him as much as we can,for as long as we can. That’s why our organizaton exists and that’s our mission. To help fighters in need of financial and/or medical care. Our membership will rally around Gary and lend him the support he needs.

  5. Ted 12:47pm, 12/19/2013

    Thanks Mike. I owe it to them.

  6. Mike Casey 11:56am, 12/19/2013

    Ted remembers guys like this and supports them constantly. Well done, Bull.

  7. Ted 05:41pm, 12/18/2013

    Craig T, Thanks for your post


  8. Thresher 05:40pm, 12/18/2013

    Ring 10 is a non-profit foundation created to help fulfill the needs of past and present boxers who have fallen on hard times; to not sit in judgement and to help when help is needed.

  9. Craig T 05:39pm, 12/18/2013

    Gary is a star, and was always a star.  The world should know about Gary Balletto.  Everyone in the boxing community need to rally around this guy!

  10. Tex Hassler 12:09pm, 12/18/2013

    We will be praying for Gary. Hopefully many others will too.

  11. Big Walter 10:58am, 12/18/2013

    Ted you should ask those on your distribution lists to forward this link to as many people as possible so that the word gets out about Gary. It might get picked up in Rhode Island and Boston and get more exposure. Just a thought.

  12. Don from Prov 10:21am, 12/18/2013

    A very tough fighter—obviously out of the ring as well as in.

    Our prayers should be with Gary.

  13. kid vegas 10:03am, 12/18/2013

    A tough situation that gives me pause to think how fortunate I am.

  14. Ted 09:00am, 12/18/2013


  15. Giorgio 08:57am, 12/18/2013

    Thanks Ted, did not know Gary Balletto but your article, so well written, helped me to discover this person and his family.

    I am sure he will make it.

    Thanks again


  16. Ted 08:47am, 12/18/2013

    just thinking out loud but there are many ways to walk the walk—whether it be for Frankie Leal’s family, Mago, or Gary. These are tough economic times, but even forwarding this link to as many boxing fans as you know can help. Even a supportive word to Gary on Facebook can help. The thing is there are all kinds of ways we can reach out beside monetary.

    For me—and I only speak for myself—I see it as an obligation to pay back for the thrill these boxers gave me over the years. The quid pro quo, albeit tragically disproportionate, is clear in my mind. Just a thought.

  17. Ted 08:42am, 12/18/2013

    thanks Bill. It was a difficult one to write. This kid is nice beyond any meaning of that over used phrase. I was one of his fans and now I’ll be one of his many supporters as he fights back.

  18. dollarbond 08:39am, 12/18/2013

    Wow.  That’s an emotional read.  I’ll co-sign with Clarence George.  Nicely done, Ted.

  19. Harold Lederman 07:32am, 12/18/2013

    “Go Gary”

  20. From retired ref Charlie Dwyer 07:03am, 12/18/2013

    Tough, durable, athletic and a puncher personified. He never lost power late in a fight. He was always dangerous. I remember a fight he had in 2000 against Glen Ford. Gary came off the deck in the first round to pound out a win. It was one of the best fights I reffed.

  21. Ted 06:44am, 12/18/2013

    He is well known and extremely well liked in the Providence area by both fans and fellow boxers. He is a multi-skilled type of person and that’s why this tragedy is especially hard to take. He has a lot to offer. A great kid all around.

  22. Clarence George 04:58am, 12/18/2013

    Nicely done.

    As always, I enjoy learning about boxers I haven’t heard of, and I wasn’t familiar with Gary Balletto, who looks rather like a young Vin Diesel with hair.

    Freak accidents…that devastating change from one second to the other.  Well, I hope he makes a full recovery.  He’s obviously a fighter, and that can make all the difference in the world.

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