LINCOLN — Two years ago, a main event between Peter Manfredo Jr. and Rich Gingras would have been very unlikely and one of the last pairings any matchmaker could have imagined.
Two years ago, Manfredo was one of the top middleweight fighters in the world, battling Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. for the WBC championship, while Gingras, who fought as a cruiserweight and light heavyweight from 2006-2009, was 26 months removed from his last fight, electing to devote the bulk of his time getting his new gym, Fight 2 Fitness in Pawtucket, off the ground and running smoothly.
But plenty has changed for the two fighters since that November, especially for Manfredo, who lost to Chavez Jr. He retired twice from the sport to concentrate on family life and his job as a full-time laborer, but in between those breaks, he appeared in a pair of main events at Twin River as a super middleweight and won both 10-rounders via unanimous decisions.
Gingras, on the other hand, returned to the ring the following March and proceeded to post a 3-1-1 record over the next 14 months. He even dropped down to the super middleweight ranks in his last two fights and fought New England super middleweight champion Vladine Biosse for Biosse’s title this past July, a spirited bout that ended in a controversial draw.
On Tuesday, the two fighters took time out of their busy schedules to sit down for a noon luncheon with Classic Entertainment & Sports, Inc. president Jimmy Burchfield, former four-time women’s world champion Jaime Clampitt, their trainers, and members of the media and CES staff at Twin River’s Wicked Good Bar & Grill to talk about Friday night’s “Pride & Power” show at the Twin River Event Center and one of the biggest main events to hit Rhode Island in recent memory.
Manfredo, who now lives in Killingly, Conn. and works with his trainer and one-time cutman, Steve Maze, at Tri-Force MMA in Pawtucket (formerly his father’s Manfredo’s Gym), will seek the 40th victory of his magnificent career when he brings a 39-7 (20 KOs) record into his 10-round super middleweight showdown against Gingras (13-3-1, 8 KOs).
But when Manfredo and Gingras sat down at opposite ends of the table on Tuesday, you would have never guesssed they were days away from firing punches at each other. Before lunch was served, they talked briefly about their fight, shared some laughs and a good-natured jab or two, and brought up the word “respect” often while talking about each other in front of the company they shared.
They also spoke glowingly about Gary Balletto, a Providence native and former lightweight who fought from 1996-2003 and again in 2006, and like Manfredo and Gingras, appeared on one of The Contender reality TV series that ran from 2005-08.
Balletto, whose superb career featured a 31-3-2 (26 KOs) record and the EBA and IBU championships, was paralyzed from the waist down following an accident at his home in July, and Manfredo (who sported a red “Balletto Boxing” t-shirt) and Gingras promised to bring out their best on Friday as a tribute to him.
“I actually retired after my last fight,” admitted Manfredo, who last defeated Walter Wright on March 15. “I figured enough was enough. I wanted to get out and be a family man and a father to my kids. But ever since this happened to Gary Balletto, who’s a dear friend of mine, just to hear that he might be paralyzed and never walk again, I said, ‘What can I do for him? I can’t give him any money because I can’t afford to. I’m just a working man.’ So I decided to fight and I’m going to dedicate the fight to him.
“I started going to the gym after work every day, and I told Jimmy that I wanted to fight again. And he asked me, ‘How about (fighting) Rich Gingras? He just fought a close fight with Vladine. He’s a local fighter and he would love to fight you.’ I said, ‘Let’s do it -- in honor of Gary Balletto.’”
Gingras, who recently bought a house in Lincoln next to Kirkbrae Country Club, didn’t hide the fact that he wanted to fight “The Pride of Providence” for quite some time or that Friday’s bout was “the opportunity of a lifetime” for him.
“I’ve been wanting to fight Peter for about a year now,” confessed Gingras, who is trained by Orlondo Valles. “He’s been kind of like an icon on the Rhode Island boxing scene since I started boxing. I actually watched him on The Contender (in 2005) before I even had my first amateur fight, so everything’s been kind of full-circle for me. It’s an exciting situation.”
While Gingras, whose only other fight of 2013 was a close split-decision victory over Woonsocket’s Joe Gardner back on May 17, hopes to end his year with an impressive win over one of his idols, Manfredo hopes to give a better performance than he did in his fight with Wright and his Nov. 29 victory over Rayco Saunders, which came after his defeat to Chavez Jr. and a brief retirement that followed.
“People have seen me in my last couple of fights and they’ve said, ‘That’s not the Peter Manfredo of old,’” added Manfredo, “and you know what, I may not be in my prime anymore, but I feel really good, very confident, and very strong. I think you’re going to see the best Peter Manfredo in this fight that you’ve seen in a while.”
While the Manfredo-Gingras fight promises to have the fans on the edges of their seats, so will the return of Clampitt to the ring following a three-year absence from it. The Warwick lightweight, who had her second child during her time away, will take a 21-5-1 (7 KOs) record into her six-round co-feature against Dominga Olivo (8-8-1) of Brooklyn, N.Y.
And speaking of comebacks, no boxer will be making a bigger return than fan favorite Arthur “The Armenian Assassin” Saribekian. The Cranston heavyweight, who last laced up his gloves on June 27, 2003, will appear in a six-round special attraction against Jesse Barboza (6-1-1, 4 KOs) of Hyannis, Mass.
Another boxer who will be dedicating his fight to Balletto will be one of Balletto’s protegees, Cranston welterweight Nick DeLomba, who will carry a 2-0 mark into his six-round test against Carlos Hernandez (3-2-1, 2 KOs) of Bridgeport, Conn. Providence middleweight K.J. Harrison-Lombardi (2-0-1) will fight Mike Rodriguez of Springfield, Mass. (who will be making his pro debut) in a four-round matchup, and Providence light middleweight Publio Pena (1-0, 1 KO) will also step into the ring for a four-rounder against Antonio Marrero (0-1) of Hartford, Conn.
Only a scattering of $61 and $101 tickets are available for the show, and they can be purchased by calling CES at 724-2253/2254, going online at www.cesboxing.com  or www.ticketmaster.com , or visiting the Players Club at Twin River. The doors open at 6 p.m. and the first bout is scheduled to get under way at 7 p.m. Twin River has waived its 18-plus rule for the show, and everyone under the age of 18 must be accompanied at all times by an adult and enter through the West entrance.
Follow Eric Benevides on Twitter @EricBen24