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Title fight has Hollywood feel

Is it Arturo Gatti vs. Floyd Mayweather for a super lightweight belt or a remake of an Academy Award winning movie?

By JOHN C. COTEY
Published June 25, 2005


For those wondering, Sylvester Stallone is not directing tonight's WBC super lightweight title fight.

But shouldn't he be?

In one corner, you have the flashy, highly skilled and in almost every way superior boxer; a pretty fighter with dazzling hand speed who is equally as quick with his mouth, wasting not a single opportunity to verbally trash his opponent and remind people he is the better fighter and his opponent nothing more than a club reject.

In the other corner, the Italian hometown hero, the underdog, a man given little chance stylistically until you measure the size of his heart; whose most memorable fights generally include lots of blood, swollen eyes, a battered face and the kind of punishment that slurs speech.

Sound familiar?

When Floyd Mayweather steps into the ring with champion Arturo Gatti, it has all the makings of a classic boxing movie.

"This fight right here is the remake," Mayweather's trainer and uncle, Roger Mayweather, said. "You know what it's the remake of? Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed. We're going to have an edited version. "You see how Rocky's face looked after his fights? Even though he won, did you see his face? Well Gatti's face is going to look like that, but he ain't going to win." In the eyes of most boxing fans, and certainly of HBO's promotion, it's good vs. evil, likable vs. hated and quiet and humble vs. loud and arrogant when they clash in Gatti's back yard in Atlantic City.

If you rooted for Rocky, you're probably pulling for Gatti. If Creed's style was more to your liking, then so is Mayweather's.

Mayweather (33-0, 22 knockouts) has made no secret he resents Gatti (39-6, 30 knockouts) and his legion of supporters.

Before his trilogy with Micky Ward in 2002 and 2003, Gatti was seemingly a spent pug who had been burned out by his brutal, blood-and-guts Fights of the Year in 1997 (against Gabriel Ruelas) and 1998 (Ivan Robinson).

But two of Gatti's fights with Ward were named Fight of the Year, and his legend was reborn.

Mayweather, meanwhile, is 33-0 but has never attracted a similarly rabid fan base.

He is the Barry Bonds of boxing, with a long list of achievements but remarkable ability to turn fans off.

Most of that stems from his out-of-ring performance, numerous tangles with the law and assault charges,

While Mayweather is criticized for his gangster image, he believes writers and fans look the other way at Gatti's past transgressions, including DUIs.

In some ways, he blames HBO. He says the network is responsible for Gatti's popularity, and his camp complained recently about its 30-minute special on tonight's fight that depicts Mayweather as a thug and Gatti a brawling hero.

"He's a club fighter, and they put him on HBO. He's a C-plus fighter, and they put him in against C-minus fighters. And they have a war and a good fight," said Mayweather, who is fighting in his first pay-per-view.

But without Gatti, tonight's fight would not be the moneymaker it is expected to be.

"He's the one who puts (butts) in the seats," Gatti's trainer, Buddy McGirt, said. "No matter where he goes, he fills up the arena. Floyd Mayweather needs him.

"In boxing, it's all about how many (butts) you put in the seats and how many buys you get. Arturo Gatti has the name. Arturo Gatti is the draw."

Mayweather is sick of hearing such talk. Sick of hearing about Gatti's heart. Sick of those who glorify fights he wins but takes a beating. "(Gatti and Ward) fought three fights, beat each other's brains in, and now Gatti's quote unquote Superman?" Mayweather said. "To take punishment is not cool in boxing. It's not cool to take shots to the head and bleed. What's cool is that I can tell everybody that I lasted 15 years in this sport with no cuts and no bruises."

If he can still say that after tonight, Mayweather will be a rare breed. But the oddsmakers believe he will outclass Gatti, making him a 5-1 favorite.

He is the fighter fans lay their money on, but chances are it's a bet more than a few wouldn't mind losing.