Let’s hope this is Micky Ward’s final war, his last appearance on center stage. Let’s hope he doesn’t have to dig any deeper than he’s already gone just to last another 10 rounds with Arturo Gatti.

Ward (38-12, 27 KOs) promises this is his last hurrah, his farewell fight in a cold business that doesn‘t care about the price you have to pay just to stay within rock-throwing distance of the top. He says he’ll step away from the fight game after he takes on Gatti (35-6, 28 KOs) in their junior-welterweight rubber match June 7 at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. He says win, lose or draw, he’s saddling up his pony and riding off into boxing’s sunset after Gatti-Ward III, after 30 years spent inside the ropes.

Let’s hope he keeps the promise.

Ward has never held a world title, but he’ll always be one of the names someone mutters when the bar talk turns to who’s the toughest fighter on the planet. He was never blessed with a lot of boxing skill, just a lot of heart. That means his wins came at a high price. He didn’t get to do a lot of coasting.

Of course, Gatti should be mentioned in the same sentence with Ward. Between them, they’ve been involved in five “fights of the year,” as chosen by Ring Magazine. Gatti has been involved in three, including the first fight with Ward last May.

0 That‘s a lot of heart and soul left spilled out on the canvas.

“I’ve put 30 years in…and I’m definitely done,” Ward recently told the Lowell (Mass.) Sun, his hometown newspaper. “It‘s definitely time. It‘s more physical than anything. It‘s not just the fight itself. It’s the preparation, the eight weeks of killing yourself. I don’t want to get hurt in there. I don‘t want to walk around like a vegetable.”

That’s a good sign. The fact that Ward worries about walking around with the mental capacity of a carrot tells you he’s not there yet, that he hasn‘t forgotten his phone number or where he lives.

But he could be closer than he wants to admit. Sometimes, it takes awhile for the damage to be tallied up. You don‘t take the kind of beatings Ward has taken over the years and ride away free. You can’t get away without leaving a little something behind.

Let’s hope the only thing he leaves behind him is his reputation.

SIGN, BABY, SIGN Cross your fingers, hold tight to a rabbit’s foot and pluck a four-leaf clover from the field in back of the house and slip it into your wallet.

We’re going to need all the fat luck we can get if the James “Lights Out” Toney – Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins fight is going to happen.

There may be a bigger fight out there this summer, but no one has suggested what it might be. Besides, Ali and Frazier are retired and Dempsey and Tunney are both dead.

Apparently, the Toney-Hopkins fight has been agreed upon verbally, which means nothing beyond the fact that there’s been some talk. A simple nod and a handshake still works for a few guys out there, but their numbers are low and they‘re a dying breed. Until there’s something signed by various parties that a lawyer can pick up off a desk and hold in his soft little hand while shaking it in someone‘s face, don’t book a flight to Vegas and reserve a room for a fight that still has some serious wrinkles to be ironed out.

According to Toney’s promoter, Dan Goossen, the fight is on. He supposedly reached an agreement with Don King for a fight sometime in August, probably at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.

The problem is, Goossen is one of those guys who will seal a deal with a handshake and stick to it. But he’s only a small part of the equation. Some guys need a little more than someone’s word. And Hopkins, at 160 pounds, might be the deal buster.