Asked what special thing he saw in Aturo Gatti before he became his trainer, Buddy McGirt slammed the answer home.

“I always had a lot of respect for Arturo Gatti,” McGirt said on a conference call Tuesday afternoon. “But that first fight (against Micky Ward) put me over the top. If I was a broad, I would have gone out with Gatti that night.”

McGirt was talking about the first fight, about Gatti and Ward's opening act a year ago this past May, back before McGirt began working with Gatti for their second fight in November.

We all know what McGirt meant. He got a peek inside a couple special fighters that night and was bowled over by what he saw. We all were. You don't witness that kind of toughness and heart without feeling something, without your emotions shaking you up inside.

Ward won that first fight, but it was only the beginning.

Now, 13 months and a second fight later, Ward and Gatti will make it a trilogy Saturday night in Atlantic City on HBO. The score is 1-to-1 and no one likes to settle for a tie.

Enjoy Gatti – Ward III. There won't be a Gatti-Ward IV. That's because Ward is 37 and after 30 years in the ring, he's getting tired. He wants to enjoy middle age, not stumble through it.

Asked if he was really quitting, Ward sounded like a guy about to get a reprieve after spending 30 years breaking rock.

“Most definitely,” he said. “You can take it to the bank.”

What Ward and Gatti will be taking to the bank are seven-figure purses.

But no one can look them in the eye and say they haven't earned it.

When he's done with this boxing foolishness, Ward said he'll take a little time off and then go back to working his day job on the road crew, back to 40-hour weeks driving the road paver.

“It's great to have a seven-figure payday, but you can't sit on it,” Ward said. “Hopefully, I'll be able to retire early. But I've been (paving) since I was a kid and I just enjoy doing it. Maybe later on I'll do something else down the road.”

Gatti is only 31 so he's not ready to drive heavy equipment yet. He said he'd like a shot at junior-welterweight champion Kostya Tszyu, but Tszyu isn't returning his calls. So instead, he's making a fortune fighting Ward, one of the few guys out
there at 140 pounds who doesn't mind going to war every six months.

“Micky is a true warrior,” Gatti said. “And this is going to be his last fight, so I think he's going to give me the fight of his life.”

“Arturo is like that guy Jason in the movies,” Ward said. “He dies, but he just keeps coming back.”

No one expects anything less.

Asked why the two fighters don't take verbal shots at each other like a lot of other fighters (see Bernard Hopkins and James Toney), Gatti said they don't need to.

“Micky is a professional athlete and he takes boxing as a sport,” Gatti said. “He knows how tough it is to be at this level. We don't fight outside the ring, we fight inside it and we do it pretty good. That's why we're doing it a third time.”

Ward is pretty much on the same page.

“We're great friends now and we'll be great friends after the fight,” he said. “We don't talk trash. We just try to take each other's head off when the fight starts.”

Asked for a prediction, Ward said he never predicts a fight, even if he's going up against a guy who is 0-12.

“Anything can happen once the bell rings,” he said. “I predict a great fight and I predict the crowd will like it.”

Shortly after that it was over. Ward, who had just finished working out and was using the phone at the gym for the conference call, thanked everyone and got ready to hang up.

“I'm gonna hit the shower, now,” he said.