Born: April 10, 1901
Died: April 4, 1965
Town: Asbury Park
Michael Ballerino was born April 10, 1901 in Asbury Park. He enlisted in the Army as a teenager near the end of World War I and was sent to the Philippines. There Mike began competing in boxing matches. At 5’4” and just over 100 pounds, he lacked power and didn’t employ much in the way of strategy or technique. Instead, he was a relentless puncher—which made him a favorite with military audiences. He fought as a bantamweight and, during his time in the Philippines, faced future world flyweight champion Pancho Villa nine time, going 3–6.
After Mike enlistment concluded in 1921, he returned to the US and continued fighting professionally. He made a name for himself in and around Tacoma before moving back to New Jersey and settling in Bayonne. He immediately got fights in major venues, including the Polo Grounds and Madison Square Garden. Mike set his sights on the Junior Lightweight title. The division was relatively new and there were several talented boxers vying for supremacy.
In December 1924, Mike defeated reigning champion Kid Sullivan in a 10-round decision. He dominated Sullivan in a 1925 rematch in Philadelphia. Mike eagerly defended his title against several top contenders and his fights drew huge crowds, often 10,000 or more. Nearly a year after earning the Junior Lightweight crown, Mike lost a lopsided match to Tod Morgan in Los Angeles.
Mike tried to work his way back into title contention and fought Benny Bass for the Featherweight title in 1927. But he won just once over a two-year period and retired from boxing at the age of 26. He was 39–36–18. Mike worked odd jobs after he’d spent his boxing winnings, including traveling with carnivals as a roustabout or “canvas man.” He passed away in Tampa at the age of 64 and was posthumously inducted into the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame in 1971.