The Strange Case of Arturo Gatti

23.10.05 – By Gabriel Decrease: Arturo Gatti is one of modern pugilism’s most beloved and electrifying warriors. Whether you worship him as a courageous blood-and-guts hero, or you write him off as a flat-footed slugger that lacks the technical flare to challenge the top guys in any division, Gatti has left an indelible mark on the face of boxing over the last fifteen years as deep and prominent as the scars left on his own mug. He can sell any fight. The masses will watch him blow out a mediocre opponent like Gianluca Branco. And they will watch him walk the line toward certain doom as he did against the slick and speedy Floyd Mayweather. Arturo Gatti is one of those rare competitors that we will tune in—or even pay steep pay-per-view prices—to see fight. He knows this, and so he’s climbing the slippery slope back from crushing defeat, again, to chase another title shot.)

Gatti will be campaigning this time as a welterweight. His first test at 147-pounds will be against undefeated Danish southpaw, Thomas Damgaard. Damgaard has never fought outside Denmark, and while cruising through low-rent competition has rarely been put in the ring with a fighter who could threaten his winning streak. The Dane is currently ranked 14th in his division by the World Boxing Organization (WBO).

However, this rank may be as undeserved as Damgaard is untested. His last opponent, Bruno Sakabunda, had a record of 1-6-0 at the time of their meeting. Damgaard decisioned him over eight rounds. Taking all this under consideration, two obvious questions are raised. Why is Damgaard fighting eight-rounders against bottom-rung bums? And why has Gatti elected to bring Damgaard out of Denmark to fight him in his first contest as a welterweight? The answer to the first question is probably that Damgaard, at 34, was winding down his unspectacular, yet undefeated, run until he got the offer to play patsy for a combacking Gatti. This will surely be the biggest payday and the only international television appearance of Damgaard’s low-profile career. The fight also gives Gatti a chance to feed his downtrodden fanclub’s hunger for a glimpse of the vivid and vicious fighter that made a brutal, legendary trilogy against Mickey Ward, and pounded out ferocious give-and-take knockouts against Gabriel Ruelas and Wilson Rodriguez.

The fight between Gatti and Damgaard will be the fulfillment of the restoration phase of the Arturo Gatti Cycle, a pattern in which over the course of a few years “Thunder” racks up impressive, big-ticket wins over shot champions and other name brawlers with fatty records and subsequently finds himself at the doorstep of a shot at one of several alphabet straps. Gatti goes after the easiest fight that will put a belt around his waist. He wins it dazzlingly, giving his best performance away at the wrong time, and then immediately takes a fight way out of his league. In this way he ended up fighting a prime-time Angel Manfredy, before “El Diablo” extinguished himself, Oscar De La Hoya, and most recently, a near-perfect Floyd Mayweather. It is as if Gatti forgets that his gifts of bravery, steadfastness, and bloody fury are of no use when he finds himself in a contest of pure athleticism and ring savvy. Arturo is not a naturally gifted athlete. He just can’t find a way to get off his heels and fight effectively on the balls of his feet, instead of his unsinkable brass balls.

The irony that haunts me now is this: Despite my claims about Gatti, and the fact that he is clearly fighting heavier than he should and showing his many wars more-and-more with each passing fight, I will continue to eagerly anticipate Gatti’s fights more than Floyd Mayweather’s godlike acts of fistic dominance or the long-awaited Heavyweight unification matches or another Roy Jones Jr. comeback fight or any other mouth-watering gem the fight game has to offer. Perhaps Gatti’s fights have become predictable, and from here-to-eternity will either be devastating left-hook knockouts of low-ball opponents, or painful shutouts at the hands of nimble tormentors like “The Golden Boy” and the “Pretty Boy.” But I will not be able to turn away, and the cyclical nature of the Gatti-spectacle will not become tiresome. This fight against Thomas Damgaard will no doubt end with the Dane contorted on the canvas somewhere around the fifth round, aching from an ugly body shot. Gatti will probably go on to leg-out the last great sprint of his career with a bitterly-fought decision over a middle-ground gatekeeper like Otkay Urkal or Jose Rivera. Perhaps, he will step up to the plate and give his all—as he has said he wants to—against a similarly threadbare Shane Mosely, who is now back in the welterweight mix. Whatever the case, Gatti’s ability to scrabble and hemorrhage his way to a few solid wins in any division coupled with his infinite marketability will probably land him a job as a whipping post for the recently reinvigorated and prime-looking Zab Judah.

Yes, this is Gatti’s last ride, and the writing is perhaps all-too-visible on the wall of pugilism. But I cannot wait, and neither can millions of other Gatti-junkies that are simultaneously honest about their champion’s failings, and blind, deaf, and dumb when it comes to giving him a hero’s chance against impossible odds. Gatti continues to make us believe that it is the size of the fight in the dog that counts, though his fights have proven that all too often it is the size of the dog in the fight that makes the difference between winning and losing. I cannot explain the how’s or why’s of the Gatti-universe, but I am more than content to live in it flat-footed, and hard-punching leading with my face, walking into every punch.

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