PROVIDENCE, R.I.— Gary Balletto Jr. never saw it coming. Jon Manley doesn’t anticipate getting in the way.
The punch heard ’round New England — the right cross from Jeremiah Wells that broke Balletto’s jaw at “CES MMA 49” and sent the Rhode Island welterweight to his first loss in five fights — has become sort of a talking point as Manley prepares to face the hard-hitting Philadelphia native who halted the progress of one of the region’s hottest prospects just two months ago.
Manley battles Wells on Friday night in the highly-anticipated co-feature of “CES MMA 50” live on AXS TV from Twin River Casino in a matchup of two fighters with contrasting resumes. The Massachusetts-born Manley (11-4, 2 KOs) boasts three times as many pro fights as his opponent, including a stint on Season 16 of The Ultimate Fighter, but those who get too comfortable in front of Wells (4-1, 2 KOs) tend to pay the price.
Manley has watched enough of the video from “CES MMA 49” — all 57 seconds of it — to know what not to do Friday when he sees for himself whether or not Wells hits as hard as advertised.
The televised main card of “CES MMA 50” airs live on AXS TV beginning at 9 p.m. ET.
“Good, straight one-two. Good jab, good right cross,” Manley said of the shot that ended Balletto’s five-fight win streak, “but I’m not going to be there.
“No fucking way.”
Manley makes his first appearance with CES MMA since May of 2017 when he lost a unanimous decision to Manny Walo at “CES MMA 44.” Since then, he’s won his last two on the regional circuit, but missed the fanfare of fighting under the bright lights of AXS TV. When a scheduled bout against longtime UFC vet Drew Fickett fizzled several weeks ago, Manley signed up to make his Twin River return on CES MMA’s 50th anniversary show, a stacked fight card featuring 12 pro bouts.
“This is awesome!” Manley said. “I kind of got lucky. CES jumped in and gave me Jeremiah, who’s obviously a super tough dude. Big show, obviously the top promotion around and all the exposure — it’s just awesome.
“My last fight [against Ryan Sanders in March] was pretty good, but it’s not like people will see it as much when it’s for CES.”
Don’t expect Wells to be star-struck come Friday. The Philadelphia looked cool and calm in April as the underdog against Balletto and used quick thinking inside the cage to expose a flaw in his opponent’s defense, leading to the biggest win of his young career.
“I saw him coming in with that leg kick and I just wanted to show what I’ve got,” Wells said. “I showed my power. When I hit him the first time, I saw him try to breathe a little more. Then as soon as he kicked me, I came in with the right cross.”
Wells expects more of the same against Manley despite a significant difference in height between he and Balletto. The 6-foot-1 Manley boasts an impressive height and reach advantage over the shorter, more compact Balletto, which means Wells will have to adjust his attack. The same goes for Manley, however, who has to strategize against the shorter, 5-9 Wells.
“If he stands up, that just leaves him vulnerable. I can catch him with the overhand,” Wells said.
“I know he used to be on The Ultimate Fighter and he’s well-rounded, tall, and probably has a lot of cardio. I know he likes to brawl and grind it out, take fighters down. Once he feels my power and sees my speed, I think he’s going to crack. He’s going to fold.”
Manley may have to lean on his experience to get him over the hump. While he doesn’t necessarily draw on technique or any other details from his UFC stint, Manley has learned to simply have more fun with MMA than he did in the past. The schedule for TUF was brutal at times — four fights in six weeks — so the pressure Manley faces now pales in comparison, even under the coveted bright lights associated with CES MMA and AXS TV.
“This shit is serious to me. I want to win and I want to advance my career,” Manley said. “I used to get really nervous — and I still do a little bit — but now it’s just fun.
“I’ve been in so many fights the process of dealing with the fight itself has gotten easier. The Ultimate Fighter helped a bunch. I’m not putting as much stress on myself. I have a lot more tools now. On The Ultimate Fighter, I tried to throw heavy hands, but I wasn’t too technical. Now I’m well-rounded. I can have fun anywhere instead of being tense.”
East Providence, R.I., native Dinis Paiva (11-6, 6 KOs) faces California’sAndre Ewell (12-4, 7 KOs) for the vacant CES MMA Bantamweight World Title in the five-round main event.
Tickets for “CES MMA 50” start at $40 and are available to purchase online at www.cesmma.com, www.twinriver.com, www.ticketmaster.com, by phone at 401-724-2253 or at the Twin River Box Office. The preliminary card begins at 7 followed by the televised main card at 9.
Also on the main card, female flyweight sensation Maria Rivera (2-0, 1 KO) of Framingham, Mass., puts her unbeaten record on the line against Mallory Martin (3-2, 1 KO) of Denver.
Woonsocket, R.I., flyweight Jose Lugo (2-0, 1 KO) makes his network television debut against Cortland, N.Y., native Michael Taylor (1-0, 1 KO) while middleweight Pat McCrohan (3-1, 2 KOs) of Berkley, Mass., returns to face red-hot Worcester, Mass., prospect Reginaldo Felix (5-3, 2 KOs). Bantamweight John Douma (3-0, 2 KOs) of Providence also debuts on the AXS TV platform in a highly-anticipated showdown against Nevada’s Adam Acquaviva (5-3, 1 KO).
The preliminary card features a welterweight scrap between veteran Toby Oden (2-2, 1 KO) of Milford, Mass., and newcomer Jeremy Puglia of Long Island, who makes his professional debut. Decorated light heavyweight Fabio Cherant (1-0) returns to face Mansfield, Ohio, native Marquis Allen (1-0, 1 KO) and featherweight Brandon Marotte (1-0, 1 KO) of Hempstead, N.H., battles debut Arslan Otchiyev of West Haven, Conn.
Also on the preliminary card, Milford, Mass., bantamweight Kris Moutinho makes his long-awaited return against New York’s Alfred Jones (3-3, 1 KO) and flyweights Hilarie Rose (0-1) of Norfolk, Mass., and Thais Sousa (0-2) of Miami search for their first career victories in a special female attraction. Light heavyweight Yorgan De Castro (1-0) of Fall River, Mass., faces David White (0-2) of Cumberland, Md.