“Irish” Micky Ward and Arturo “Thunder” Gatti clash for the third and almost certainly final time in Atlantic City this weekend. Earlier this week Irish-Boxing.com heard from both men ahead of what promises to be yet another thrilling encounter.
It seems the depth to which the general public’s perception of boxing can sink knows no depths. Audley Harrison’s career best performance over countryman Matthew Ellis last weekend was marred by post fight crowd trouble which was caused by Harrison’s goading of domestic rival and notorious hothead Herbie Hide. Across the other side of the Atlantic Mike Tyson was back to his depraved “best” appearing on TV to once again deny raping Desire Washington before adding, “but now I really do want to rape her.” It seems that the messrs Tyson, Harrison and Hide are intent on proving the old cliché that boxing is the red light district of sport and that the heavyweight division is the red light district of boxing.
Thank goodness then for light welterweight contenders Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward. The two men will duke it out for a third time in Atlantic City this Saturday as they look to settle a rivalry that currently stands at one fight a piece. Trilogies seem to be all the rage at the box office these days and for boxing fans the third instalment in the Gatti – Ward series should prove too tempting to miss. In fact the tag line for this bout should probably read, “If you only see one fight this year then make it Gatti and Ward.” It’s a fight that has to make do without any paper titles, flashy entrances, pre fight punch up’s or trash talk. Indeed in the words of Ward all it will come down to is “two guys in the ring who will be looking to take each others heads off”.
While fans on this side of the Atlantic will have to wait for the BBC’s delayed screening on Sunday night the fight will go out live across the U.S. on cable network H.B.O to millions of expectant viewers. Anybody who witnessed the first two episodes of this rivalry (and particularly the first) will be anticipating another barn storming fight at the weekend.
The decider or “rubber match” looks set to bring down the curtain on Ward’s eighteen year pro career. The 37 year old whose ancestors came from County Cork is insistent that win lose or draw Saturday night’s contest will be his last hurrah in the ring. The Lowell, Massachusetts native is determined to go out on his own terms and with his health and wealth intact. While their intense rivalry has done wonders for both men’s bank balances even the most blood thirsty fan would squirm in their armchair at the thought of the punishment they have endured in the first two fights. With that in mind it comes as a relief to know that after Saturday night Ward should be free to enjoy a healthy and prosperous retirement. “I could still do it physically, (after this fight)” admits Ward. “I feel fine, fitter than ever in fact but enough is enough, I want to retire while I’ve still got all my faculties and live a normal life afterwards.”
That life will be made all the more comfortable by the two seven figure purses he has picked up for the second and third fights with Gatti. However that won’t stop Ward returning to his day job driving a roller for a local road construction company, “It’s great to have a seven figure payday and I intend to invest it right but I enjoy doing the other work. I haven’t been working during my training and I’ll take a short break after the fight but then I’ll go back to it. It’s funny there are a lot of other things I could do that would probably be easier but I just love the job.”
Although Ward will hang up his gloves after Saturday nights contest he doesn’t think he’ll be able to resist boxing’s charms forever. “I’ll still train, I’ll work out and hit the bag but as for sparring no way! I’ll probably stay away from boxing for a while but as soon as I begin to miss it then I can start training young kids down at the gym.”
While Ward is adamant that this is his last fight retirement is certainly not an item on Gatti’s agenda. The New Jersey based Canadian’s ultimate target is light welterweight kingpin Kostya Tszyu but he will only accept the fight if there is purse parity. “Tszyu can’t draw flies”, claims Gatti.
“He’s got to understand that Arturo Gatti is a big T.V. fighter who brings a lot to the table so unless there’s a 50 – 50 split there’ll probably be no fight.” Tszyu will no doubt have his own views and clearly there are some tough negotiations ahead if Gatti is to secure his dream bout.
Before any of that though Gatti will have to overcome Ward for a second time. At 31 he is six years younger than Ward but no less experienced when it comes to ring wars. Over the years Gatti has been involved in a number of gruelling battles thrilling fans with back and forth battles against Tracy Harris Patterson, Wilson Rodriguez, Gabriel Ruelas, Angel Manfredy and Ivan Robinson. In fact it’s incredible to think that both men have been involved in contests that were awarded Fight of the Year” by Ring magazine on new fewer than five occasions.
Despite all the wear and tear though Gatti appears to be improving with age. With the excellent Buddy McGirt now in his corner the former I.B.F super featherweight champion has added finesse to the all out brawling style that has won him so many fans down through the years. McGirt’s influence was especially noticeable in the second fight last November when Gatti displayed some of the speed and slick boxing skills that he appeared to have left behind when making the switch from the amateur ranks. McGirt seems to have moulded Gatti in to a much cleverer fighter who will now get on his feet and box when the situation demands it.
The fact that Gatti had to contend with a broken hand for most of the second fight makes his decisive points victory even more impressive. “I had to fight the second fight with my right hand broken from the third round”, said Gatti. “When I took the gloves off after the fight my hand was black and blue and I knew it was broken. I didn’t really feel any pain with it throughout the fight so it didn’t bother me that much. I had an operation on it after the fight and I haven’t had any problems with it in training. It’s healed up perfectly.”
Both Gatti and McGirt have made no secret of the fact that their strategy for the third fight will be no different from last time. For Gatti it’s clearly a case of “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” That’s not to suggest that they are being complacent in their approach to the fight. “In the second fight I boxed and that worked for me so I’m going to stick with that for this fight and just try to be even better.”
When asked how happy he was with his charges performance last time against McGirt replied with a candidate for quote of the week, “Arturo was great in that second fight. If I was a broad I would have went out with him that night!”
While that may have been taking things a bit too far it’s clear that Gatti is enjoying working with McGirt. “Buddy goes away and sleeps on stuff we work on in the gym then comes in the next day with new tricks so I’m learning new things all the time.”
McGirt wasn’t going to reveal any of his “new tricks” other than to say, “Like Arturo said we just added a few more tricks for this fight. Micky Ward isn’t going to come out fighting like Muhammad Ali or Sugar Ray Robinson but we know he’s going to be a warrior in there.” McGirt also dismissed suggestions that Ward’s advancing years could prove a factor in the fight. “He could be 47 and still be dangerous in there so we’re not even thinking about that.”
Ward was a little coyer when talking about his strategy this time round. He feels that a burst eardrum that resulted from the punch that floored him in the third round of the second fight ultimately cost him the contest. It’s a plausible argument and the injury clearly affected Ward’s balance for the remainder of the bout. Like Gatti though all injuries from their last bout have well and truly healed and Ward is raring to go as he looks to leave the sport on a high. “Everything’s gone great in training and now I just can’t wait to get in there and get going”, said Ward.
“I’m definitely not going to fight the same stupid fight as I did last time, with my hands up around my head taking punches. Without revealing too much I just plan on using a lot more head movement, more speed and more jabbing.”
Never one for making bold predictions Ward declined the opportunity to break that habit saying, “I’ve never predicted a fight in my life, even if I was fighting a guy with twelve losses and no wins I wouldn’t make a prediction. Boxing’s a funny game and you can never say what’s going to happen in that ring so I’m not going to break that habit my making a prediction for my last fight. I’m just confident that I can win.”
While both men are brimming with confidence ahead of the bout they’re also full of respect for each other and their respective achievements to date. Having shared twenty exhilarating rounds it’s clear that both men feel a bond has been established that will last beyond this weekends bout. “I would never disrespect boxing by talking trash at press conferences and stuff”, said Gatti.
“That’s for fighters with big ego’s. People know I’m a bad dude in the ring so I don’t need to show that outside the ring! Micky’s a true warrior and a professional athlete, it’s a sport for him and it’s a sport to me. He’s a real gentleman but a true killer in that ring!”
Gatti is even hoping to renew rivalries with Ward on the golf course as soon as the boxing is out of the way. “I play golf and he plays golf so I want to hook up with him later on for a round. He’s a great guy and I’d like to hang out with him again after this fight and introduce him to my family.”
Ward speaks equally respectfully about Gatti saying, “We don’t talk crap or trash because we don’t need to. I like the kid, he’s a class act. We’re great friends who can separate being in and out of the ring. We can see it as a sport even though we’ll be trying to take each others heads off in there!”
Although it’s a fight that lacks world title status Ward is not overly concerned saying, “I see this as a great fight and I think the fans would rather see that then having some world title on the line. Sure it would be nice if it was for a world title but I think the fans can see that this is one of the best fights out there.”