Popularity makes Gatti the people’s welterweight

Jul 18, 2006 6:02 AM

There’s a big welterweight title bout set for this Saturday in Atlantic City. It’s a shame none of the big welterweights will be fighting.

Never mind Sugar Ray Robinson, Tommy Bell, Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Pernell Whitaker, Julio Cesar Chavez, Oscar de la Hoya or Felix Trinidad. Welterweight has been the jewel of the weight divisions long before I personally passed the 147-pound limit at the age of 11 (that’s a joke).

Now we have Carlos Baldomir, the real champion, ( no matter how much Bob Arum disputes it), defending against the undeserving Arturo Gatti. The guy who made Gatti virtually give up in the middle of their beating .

Arturo had absolutely no answers for him and would crack up laughing if the odds hold up Saturday. Gatti is -220, Baldomir +180! Floyd Mayweather Jr. would be relegated to bitter laughter after how easily he handled Gatti last year. Don’t give me any argument that, yeah, it was at 140 pounds.

Mayweather would love a big fight at welterweight, junior welterweight. or junior middleweight against Oscar de la Hoya. He has a rooting interest in next Saturday’s Boardwalk battle because there’s no way he could possibly have a rematch with Gatti. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Arturo would prohibit it.

The thing is, if Baldomir scores a very possible upset, who would pay hard-earned money to see the Argentine without many means fight boxing’s reigning king?

Mayweather is not the only one who would upgrade a welterweight title fight that would be acceptable fodder at maybe St. Nick’s or the Eastern Arena if the old clubs were still around. Antonio Margarito may not have beaten anyone you might have heard of, but he is regarded by some aficionados as a real tough guy and does hold the WBOgus 147-pound title.

Championships these days are as meaningful as a Paris Hilton acting class or Gatti’s "qualifying" victory over Thomas Damgaard — a piece of cheese Danish.

Mayweather gave the IBFelons back their IBFony title, the one he won against Zab Judah. Ricky Hatton has another bogus welterweight title, which he took narrowly from the capable Luis Collazo. Hatton seems to want to yo-yo between 140 and 147 pounds. Sugar Shane Mosley promises a return to his old weight class next year, then maybe entertain thoughts of Mayweather.

On the other end of the scale, Miguel Cotto, who can no longer make 140 comfortably, is coming up to 147. Cotto will be rooting for Gatti to win because that would be a big-money matchup. The star-studded division also has a bunch of young undefeated prospects, headed by Carlos Quintana and Paul Williams, who would be more acceptable than two career club fighters.

Which gets us to the crux of the matter: While HBO and the powers that be obviously favor the popular Gatti, Baldomir can once again score a major 2006 upset. He opened the year by outpointing the unprepared Zab Judah, who held the real welterweight title.

Granted, that was perhaps less than 50 percent of Judah, but that’s probably the equal of the 110 percent you always get from Gatti.

Gatti is quicker than the plodding Baldomir. But the Argentine gives meaning to the description "rugged," and I’m not sure Gatti’s superior boxing, especially lateral movement, will mean much.

Gatti is an old warrior. His legs may not be up to the constant pressure and the spirit certainly isn’t. The man does not know how to run from fights, which is why people pay real money to see him.

Gatti will be right there, I believe. He will be hit. The slow-handed Damgaard hit him and, remember, Baldomir got inside against Judah, who is even faster than Gatti, and hurt him in the seventh round. I don’t know if Baldomir can hurt Gatti, but he can cut him.

I see a grueling, entertaining matchup. Gatti should be able to successfully negotiate the early rounds, but as the match wears on and reminds his body how old it is, the champion should be able to take over.

Gatti simply is not worth his price, which is inflated by linemakers who realize there are a lot of Gatti fans out there.

I don’t know of any Baldomir fan clubs, but he would be my bet. I wouldn’t touch the go-don’t go action.

I can’t see any knockouts, but cuts are always a factor.
: MGM Grand has set Barrera-Juarez II for Sept. 16 at Grand Garden Arena. The "Too Close To Call" rematch of the top 130-pound fighters will be pay-per-view.