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Arturo Gatti ready for takeoff

BY Rick Folstad ON January 27, 2006
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We should all watch Arturo Gatti this weekend because there aren’t too many guys out there like him. Besides, it might be one of the last times we get to appreciate his work.

He’s like a bird on the brink of extinction. You want to see it fly one more time before it disappears.

You’ve heard it all before. Never a hall-of-famer in pure talent, Gatti’s bust should be behind the bar of every neighborhood saloon in America, every place where the regulars drive pickup trucks and work 40-hour weeks with their hands and their backs.

They’re the kind of people who don’t know how the silverware should be set or what makes for a good merlot, but they can tell you how to install a rebuilt transmission or repair a leak in the faucet.

Gatti is one of them, though he doesn’t pay union fees or punch a time clock. He’s one of them because he’s nothing fancy, just a guy doing his job, an honest day’s work, and that’s a good thing where they come from. He doesn’t strut or prune or pound his chest. He just gives them a good fight, which is the only thing they wanted to see.

Gatti (39-7, 30 KOs) is scheduled to fight Denmark’s Thomas Damgaard (37-0, 27 KOs) on Saturday night at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. The fight is on HBO, but you don’t have to pay extra for it. It’s not pay-per-view. Gatti is too popular to be hemmed in by something like pay-per-view.

I read someplace where this will be his 19th appearance on HBO, and that says a lot about both the fighter and his fights. He’s had a longer run on HBO than The Sopranos. Cable TV doesn’t ask fighters back who can’t bring everyone to their feet. With Gatti, tickets don’t last long.

The fight with Damgaard is for the vacant IBA welterweight championship. It’s not a major title, but it’s a belt, and it’s a trip back to the welterweight division for Gatti, who has spent most of his career at junior-welter and lightweight. The extra seven pounds has got to be the best gift he’s received in the last five years, or since his fight with Oscar De La Hoya.

Damgaard is pretty much an unknown fighter everywhere but in Denmark. This will be his first fight in the United States. But it’s more than that. It’s also his first fight outside of Denmark, which explains why most of us don’t have any idea of who he is or what he can do.

But what has leaked out is that he’s a southpaw who likes to fight in close. He’s a banger and he’s a little like the old Gatti, back before Gatti’s trainer, Buddy McGirt, started working with him.

In the old days, Gatti was a bull, charging forward and risking everything on a gut check. Toughest guy with the most heart throwing the most punches wins. And he usually won. But when he lost, it was never pretty. Blood everywhere.

Gatti’s always been a guy who cuts, and bleeders should avoid the elbows, headbutts and uppercuts that are a key part of fighting inside. He’s been sliced up more than a side of beef.

Knowing they won’t let you fight with your eye lid split open, McGirt pulled him back, slowed him down and taught him the meaning of finesse. And suddenly, Gatti found out he could box. It added five years to his career.

And it was a pretty good career until this past June when he tangled with the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, Floyd Mayweather Jr.

It wasn’t a fight as much as it was a brutal reminder that chutzpah is a fine thing to have, but it doesn’t belong in the same building with speed and natural ability.

Which is why Gatti is fighting a Dane we never heard of.

But who cares? We just want to watch him fight.

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