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Arturo Gatti; The Last Warhorse

By Mark Workman

Absolute mania will erupt when Arturo “Thunder” Gatti (39-6, 30 KOs) begins his ring walk into the Atlantic City Boardwalk on Saturday, June 25th. With Gatti’s WBC Super Lightweight belt on the line against WBC # 1 ranked contender, 2-time world champion and pound-for-pound best “Pretty Boy” Floyd Mayweather (33-0, 22 KOs), this hugely anticipated mega-showdown has Fight of the Year punched all over it.

If nothing else in this life, you can be sure of one thing, Atlantic City is Gatti country. Originally from the city of Montreal in the Quebec province of Canada but fighting out of Jersey City, NJ, the Atlantic City fans claim this blood-and-guts warrior as their very own. Having already fought in Atlantic City a total of 19 times as a pro, Gatti has become a superhero to the residents of this East Coast gambling Mecca. But will that adoration, in addition to his skills and do-or-die nature, give the 3.5 to 1 underdog champion enough guns to blast away the extremely gifted Mayweather, a younger man raised in a family with a proud and strong fighting tradition?

“Pretty Boy” Floyd Mayweather, on the other hand, will enter the Atlantic City Boardwalk feeling like Osama bin Laden lost in New York City without a friendly face in sight. Will “Pretty Boy” Floyd be able to endure that kind of heat and finish the evening with win # 34 and a possible 23rd knockout?

When I saw Arturo Gatti’s slug-out against Wilson Rodriguez in 1996—a fight where both of Gatti’s eyes were beaten shut in the first round; where Gatti suffered a knockdown in the 2nd round and then came back to knock Rodriguez down in the 5th and out in the 6th—I remember thinking to myself, “This kid’s either going to become an international superstar or be killed in the ring one day…or both.” Watching him fight ever since, it was sometimes disturbing yet exhilarating; nerve-wracking yet dramatic; courageous yet sometimes heartbreaking. Like the great Raging Bull Jake Lamotta, Gotti never stops coming forward, throwing punches in bunches and happy to take whatever his opponent can dish out just to give it back in spades.

I admire Arturo Gatti. When I think of the many wars he’s fought—especially his famous trilogy with Micky Ward, one of the greatest 3-fight dramas of all time—one can’t help but think of the old-school fighters in history who climbed into the ring for glory, to be the champion of the world; fighters who dreamed of nothing more than wearing that championship belt around their waist and what that meant to the world. Is Arturo “Thunder” Gatti boxing’s last true warhorse?

Unfortunately that belt doesn’t mean the same the thing to the world anymore. There are too many of them. Today it seems as if being the champion of the world is secondary to many fighters; women, fame and money being the juice that keeps the wheel turning; living the high-life while dangerously walking the razor’s edge of instant career suicide.

There’s no doubt that Floyd Mayweather, Jr. is one of the best fighters on the planet and quite possibly the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. Watching him fight reminds me why I love boxing so much. Seeing Floyd at work is like watching the majesty of a great symphony orchestra, each part flowing in perfect synchronization, producing a great work that is graceful, fluid and masterful, roaring with ever-increasing fury.

So why do only hardcore boxing fans know his name? Why is he not yet a household name like Iron Mike Tyson, Oscar de LaHoya or Roy Jones, Jr.? He’s been a champion for nearly a decade. Many think it’s his increasingly troubled lifestyle, his cocky attitude verging on total arrogance, his constant bragging about his wealth and allegations of domestic abuse. It’s certainly a turn-off to many. Being a great fighter just isn’t enough, I’m afraid.

Why do so many observers believe that Floyd Mayweather, Jr. is dead-set on following in the same tragic footsteps as Mike Tyson? Has he not heard the stories: the hundreds of millions of dollars won and squandered; fights lost that should’ve been easily won; in and out of jail for violent offenses; a reputation quite possibly forever tarnished and a legacy that could’ve been much greater, with all due respect to the legendary Iron Mike Tyson? Or does Floyd feel he’s impervious to those same perils that have haunted a much bigger ring legend for most of his now-defunct career?

Arturo Gatti lost his beloved father right before he turned pro and used his desire to make his father proud a catalyst for success, just as James Buster Douglas used a similar personal fuel to shock the world in defeating Iron Mike Tyson in 1990. Gatti has certainly wasted some of his own years on fast-living and suffered in a few fights because of it, before finally getting serious about his life and career. Will “Pretty Boy” Floyd do the same before it’s too late?

It’s no secret that Floyd Mayweather, Jr. has had his brushes with the law, lives his life in the fast-lane and openly tells anyone willing to listen how he loves to frequent strip joints and all that comes with that. At age 27, he’s certainly a young man who deserves to have a little fun in his life, but one can only wonder when this type of lifestyle will begin to seriously affect his performance in the ring and result in his first defeat. Could his first loss come at the hands of “Thunder” Gatti? It’s possible.

Nor is it a secret that Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and his infamous trainer father Floyd, Sr. couldn’t make it work as a father and son team, seemingly in and out of the ring. But when is Floyd, Sr. going to sit young Floyd down and give him some personal guidance before that wining streak comes to a sudden halt at the hands of a more clean-living fighter? Maybe he’s already tried. Maybe Floyd, Jr. listens to no one but Floyd, Jr. Maybe he can continue to win in spite of his strong penchant for late-night and potentially self-destructive activities. But smart money says it can only last so long.

I judge no one. I know what it’s like to have a father but not really have one. I’ve spoken to mine twice in 26 years and he lives 8 miles from me. He doesn’t offer counsel and because of that I find it difficult to ask him for it. I sometimes worry that he’ll suddenly die, and I’ll hate myself for never taking the lead and putting it all behind us because I know he can’t or won’t. As the years roll by and he feels guiltier because he was never there, it becomes more difficult to start anew, and the vicious cycle continues and probably always will. The boxing ring isn’t the only place where courage is sometimes needed.

Gatti seems to have matured over the past few years and become a much more relaxed person, and it shows in the ring. In his recent interviews he conveys himself as a man with supreme confidence in his abilities and not just someone trying to talk himself into believing he’s going to win. Gatti is sure he’s going to win, and he’ll do anything and everything it takes to accomplish that mission. But can he really beat Floyd Mayweather, Jr.?

“I’m ready to die in the ring when I fight. I fight to the end,” says Gatti. I sometimes wonder if he’s truly serious when he speaks those words. I hope it doesn’t end up that way for him. How long can he go on fighting the way he does, taking more punishment than he dishes out to win, even though that seems to have lessened a bit in his last few fights, thanks to his new trainer?

Highly-skilled trainer and ex-champion Buddy McGirt has certainly brought Gatti to a whole new performance level by turning him into more of a defense-oriented boxer and away from his old slugger style which will hopefully reduce the damage that Gatti endures for the remainder of his career.

But Gatti’s already taken a lot of punishment in his many “Fight of the Year” wars. The accumulative effect of this damage is building with each fight and could end badly for him when his career is over if he continues to endure the punishment he’s very willing to take to win.

He’s still Arturo “Thunder” Gatti, the warrior, and I doubt that will ever completely change. In the heat of battle Gatti’s instincts will probably always send him into slug-mode. But it’s his maturity and ring savvy that could help him to resist the impulse to revert back to his older, albeit more exciting, fighting style. If dragged into it, can Floyd Mayweather, Jr. resist the temptation to enter into a slugfest with Gatti? If he can, he might beat Gatti by using his speed and superior boxing skills. But if he falls into that trap, he could very well suffer his first knockout. Arturo Gatti is not a fighter to be underestimated by anyone, including Floyd Mayweather, Jr.

Floyd said in a recent interview that he was going to “walk right through Gatti.” I wonder if he truly can or if he’s just trying to convince himself he can by constantly saying such things in public. He may have the skills to do it, but can he hunker down and go toe-to-toe with Arturo when those Gatti instincts kick in and he goes to DEFCON 1?

If Arturo can get beyond Mayweather’s iron-clad defense and dish it out heavy on the inside, is Floyd, Jr. willing to truly bleed for the win should Gatti cut him, or will he quit? Can Floyd take the punishment that Gatti has proven time and time again that he’s willing to take to win? Will Floyd begin to mentally shut down if Gatti batters him bloody as so many have done to him, or will he suddenly find himself in new territory that he’s never visited before and choke, resulting in a perfect view of the Atlantic City Boardwalk ceiling from a prone position?

Will Arturo “Thunder” Gatti bring with him into the ring Saturday night the memory of his beloved father Giovanni Gatti? Will his father hover over Arturo in this career-defining moment to give him even more strength and cheer him on to victory? Will his father’s memory guide his son Arturo to true greatness?

On Saturday night should “Pretty Boy” Floyd Mayweather suddenly find himself drowning in dark waters he’s never swum before, will he look to his father for support when he needs it most to find he’s not there? Will Floyd, Sr. even be there at ringside? Does “Pretty Boy” Floyd even care if he’s there? Maybe his uncle and excellent trainer Roger Mayweather will be enough support for him if trouble comes his way. Maybe not.

If Arturo “Thunder” Gatti reaches deep into the well inside him and pulls out the fight of his life Saturday night, “Pretty Boy” Floyd Mayweather may not be so pretty anymore; and, surrounded by that pro-Gatti crowd, young Floyd, Jr. may suddenly realize that the loneliness he seeks to vanquish in those strip joints has just become greater than he could ever imagine and the real adversary that finally defeated him.

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