Mayweather turning tough guy for Gatti

Jun 21, 2005 12:54 AM

The sound bytes have been almost as good as the highlight reels of both fighters. As if Arturo Gatti and Floyd Mayweather Jr. meeting June 25 in Atlantic City (sorry, folks, you’ll have to fork over major pay-per-view bucks for this possible classic), the two combatants have been engaged in some neat trash talk.

Mayweather, who was probably taught his first combinations while in utero by his daddy, is a dazzling boxer, one of the two best in the world on most pound-for-pound lists (Bernard Hopkins, for longevity’s sake, usually takes first place). He can also talk the talk.

The undefeated former 130 and 135-pound world champion doesn’t have to brag that he is an "A" fighter. He’s more like "A-plus." But he gets a bit nasty when he calls Gatti, the personification of warrior courage, a "C-minus" fighter.

Gatti may be a "C-minus" boxer, but he’s an "A-plus" fighter.

Actually, that boxer rating is perhaps a bit low. Gatti, for all the wonderful times he thrilled crowds with his amazing never-say-die antics, can stick a jab out there and move laterally, especially when his great trainer, Buddy McGirt, reminds him.

Mayweather really lands a low verbal blow when he says Gatti, who despite his boxing ability usually prefers to lead with his face, has had so much plastic surgery "he’s beginning to look Japanese."

Gatti is no slouch with the ad-lib, either. He says Pretty Boy Floyd has his family mouth. Uncle Roger, Pretty Boy’s current trainer (now that Daddy has been fired and gone to work for Oscar de la Hoya) can also trash and has the family chin.

Good shot, Arturo. The problem is that once the mouthpieces are in, and talking is replaced by boxing, the chances are you will not be landing too many others.

Gatti is not a bad boxer, but he’s not in the same league with the defensive genius of Mayweather, who sees punches coming before the opponent realizes he’s about to throw them. There is nothing Mayweather can not do in a ring defensively. He can back-pedal, move side to side, slip punches, bend at the waist like Wilfred Benitez used to and he can parry.

The late Eddie Futch said he hadn’t seen anyone in 20 years make some of the moves Little Floyd makes when escaping along the ropes.

Gatti is not slow-fisted by any means, but he will be up against man who could catch lightning in a bottle and have it corked before you hear the clap of thunder. His offense, with those blazing fists, flows from the defense most of the time. Floyd is not a strict counter-puncher. He can lead as well.

Mayweather is a 7-2 or 4-1 favorite, though the sentimental money will probably appear late for Gatti. This should make Pretty Boy a worthy bet by first bell on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City. It may not be as easy as some Mayweather believers think — Gatti is a dangerous puncher and there will be no quitting here.

But Mayweather is correct in his assessment that Gatti, because of his great popularity, has been allowed by HBO to face mediocre opposition. Micky Ward, with whom he had the great trilogy of exciting matches, was after all nothing more than a journeyman who won maybe one round against Zab Judah.

Never mind that Ivan Robinson beat Gatti twice. Back in those days, Gatti did not believe in leaving his fights in the gym, not when a bar was handy. But he also lost to Angel Manfredy, whom Mayweather routed in less than two rounds.

Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo, who in April put on one of the greatest fights in history, are a combined 0-3 against Mayweather. I can’t imagine either one losing to Gatti.

Gatti is the bigger man, yes, but like Mayweather, he started out at 130 pounds. He beat Tracy Harris Patterson for his first world title; Mayweather was a comparative professional novice when he beat the much more accomplished Genaro Hernandez.

Gatti’s legendary comebacks were accomplished against Wilson Rodriguez — a battle that outdid all the "Rocky" movies — and a long-in-the-tooth Gabe Ruelas. You wouldn’t think of putting either of those in with Mayweather.

In fact, many of the guys Gatti has beaten recently — (Gianluca Branco, for the vacant WBC "title" were turned down by HBO as inadequate opponents for Mayweather. Kostya Tszyu was the real champion, which means Ricky Hatton is now the king of boxing’s best division.

And don’t think just because he talks a lot and often gets in trouble at nightclubs, that Mayweather doesn’t take his profession seriously. No one works harder than the brash young fighter. At a recent soiree in Las Vegas, he exchanged insults with Sugar Ray Leonard. Then, he left the dinner and went to the gym — on a Saturday night at midnight.

It’s not Pretty Boy’s fault that he hasn’t yet fought better competition at 140. He had to taunt Gatti to get him into the ring. No way Main Events, Gatti’s promoters, wanted this fight. Only Arturo’s fighting spirit made them acquiesce. But he went after Genardo Hernandez at 130 and when he moved up to 135, Pretty Boy picked Jose Luis Castillo, by far the best of all the title-holders, to challenge.

When some people thought the bum handed Mayweather was lucky in winning that decision, he said, okay, let’s do a rematch and beat Castillo much more convincingly the second time. That was something de la Hoya never did for Pernell Whitaker.

Yes, Mayweather has had hand problems before. He can break knuckles on Gatti’s hard head. And Gatti is good enough to land a sneaky left hook.

It is no sure thing, but even laying 7-2, Mayweather should be a fairly safe bet.