Saturday, July 29, 2006

Arrivederci, Arturo. . .

On Saturday night I saw what I hope will be Arturo Gatti's last fight. Not his last title fight. Not his last fight in Atlantic City. His last fight, period.

If it does prove to be the last time he laces up the gloves, then the man they call "Thunder" didn't go out with a reverberating boom. No, the end came late in Round 9 against WBC and IBA Welterweight Champion Carlos Baldomir. When the referee called a merciful end to the action, there was no protest from Gatti, Gatti's corner, the pro-Gatti crowd, or this Gatti fan watching at home.

I first became an Arturo fan in 1997 when I saw him beat Gabriel Ruelas via a dramatic 5th Round TKO. I've been a fan ever since. Before every fight, it seemed, Team Gatti would tell us that Arturo had learned his lesson. This time, they said, he would utilize his boxing skills to their fullest extent and fight a smart, low-risk fight. Right. And in the next James Bond flick, whoever's playing Agent 007 won't end up hooking up with a beautiful, yet dangerous woman. Once Arturo got hit with a big shot or two, it was on. The game plan got thrown out the window, and the old Arturo that I knew and loved would turn from boxer to brawler and have the crowd on its feet. Whether you started a Gatti fight rooting for him or not, you always ended one applauding his guts and heart and questioning his sanity. That was then.

Even when Arturo came out on the losing end of things, I loved the guy. I was on the edge of my seat when he lost to Angel Manfredy. I didn't miss a second of his two battles with Ivan Robinson. Then there was the Arturo Gatti-Mickey Ward trilogy. If you're not a fight fan, I can't really explain or describe to you what it's like to see two men who've spent three separate contests beating the hell out of each other hug in the center of the ring like long-lost brothers.
But, that was then.

Like Mark Antony with Julius Caesar, I come not to praise Arturo Gatti the man, but to bury Arturo Gatti the prize fighter. His last two fights have convinced me, and I hope him as well, that it's time for him to leave the ring for good. He can no longer fight at 140 lbs. and below. Age and those years he lived like a "rock star" outside of the ring have seen to that. Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Carlos Baldomir both showed that 147 is no longer an option for him either. Pretty Boy Floyd picked him apart, revealing that, even if he can stick to the "boxer" game plan that seems to go against his very nature, Arturo is too slow to pull that game plan off against a marquee welterweight. Baldomir showed that, at 147 lbs., Gatti lacks the power to even have a proverbial "puncher's chance."

Before reading the final "verdict" on Saturday night, the ring announcer asked the Atlantic City crowd to acknowledge all that Arturo had given us the fight fants over the years. Through all the cuts, contusions, and closed eyes, Arturo Gatti never gave his sport a black eye. That's saying something these days. He's got nothing left to prove to us, and he shouldn't have anything left to prove to himself. So, arrivederci, Arturo, and thanks for the memories.

ding, ding.


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