This Saturday night in Atlantic City, New Jersey, boxing's version of 'the Human Highlight Film' (with all due respect to one Dominique Wilkins) gets back into action when he faces the rugged Leonard Dorin in defense of his WBC junior welterweight title.
But with Gatti, it's never about the opponent or what title belt that's on the line. When 'Thunder' strikes, as a boxing fan, you have to be there.
I think it's safe to say that since the heyday of Mathew Saad Muhammad, Gatti is by far the most consistently exciting fighter in the game.
Since he burst onto the scene by winning his first title against Tracy Harris Patterson in 1995, no fighter has come close to providing the thrills and spills of boxing's E-ticket.
His first defense of the IBF 130-pound title would come against Wilson Rodriguez at the Theatre in Madison Square Garden. Against the relatively unknown Rodriguez, Gatti would have to come off the canvas, with his eyes swollen up, to register a come-from-behind knockout in the sixth round. It became an insta-classic on HBO's 'Boxing After Dark' series. Then there was his dramatic stoppage of Rafael Ruelas in 1997, in a fight that Ruelas seemed to have gained control before succumbing to the lethal left hooks of Gatti in round five.
It was these bouts that branded Gatti as 'Must see TV.'
” Arturo Gatti is the drama king of HBO Boxing,” says an admiring Larry Merchant. “Look, Evander Holyfield has given us a lot of tremendous fights, Thomas Hearns was always in some kind of drama, Marco Antonio Barrera's been in some terrific fights, but overall, getting up and coming from behind and all that, nobody has entertained more people than Gatti.”
And get this, his fights are so heart-stopping, so gut-wrenching and downright exciting, that even his losses have added to his legend. Gatti would go zero-for-two against Ivan Robinson. But those back-and-forth affairs were so scintillating, it didn't hurt his marketability one iota. His back to back losses to Robinson in 1998 didn't keep him from making his return to the ring eight months later on HBO.
And if you go back just a bit further, before his two successive fights against Robinson, Gatti lost in another barn-burner to Angel Manfredy, on cuts, earlier that year. Think about it, when was the last time a fighter remained an HBO staple with a reverse hat-trick?
There's HBO fighters, and then there's Arturo Gatti.
” He's one of the few fighters who sort of inoculates himself against defeats,” says Merchant.” You go to see him fight and if he happens to lose, you want to see him fight the next time. There's not too many fighters you can say that about.”
Fast forward to May of 2002 when he took on 'Irish' Mickey Ward in what has to be an early candidate for 'Fight of the Millennium.' Gatti and Ward proved the best combination since peanut butter and jelly. Over 10 brutal rounds, they put on a legendary slug-fest that saw Ward come away with a razor thin split decision.
HBO was so impressed that they would buy the rights to the remaining two fights of the trilogy that would see Gatti win the return bout and the eventual rubber match. This past January he was given a bit of respite by being matched with Gianluca Branco for the vacant WBC 140-pound trinket. It seemed to be HBO's and Main Events’ way of giving him a paid vacation before he gets back to work.
In what was one of his more placid performances, Gatti would out-point Branco over 12 rounds to win his second major belt. Now, he gets back to business with a guy whose style and persistence could make Gatti revert back to his thrilling ways.
” I think the main question here is, how does Dorin handle his punch?” says Merchant, of Saturday nights match-up. “Dorin marches forward with his arms in front of him, if he can handle the punch, if he doesn't get stopped or intimidated early, he's got a pretty good chance of winning the fight.”
Dorin is a tough cookie, while not a huge puncher, he's a guy that throws a huge volume of them and keeps coming forward. Also, while he's more of a natural lightweight- and a small one in stature, at that- he's shown a good chin and won't be intimidated fighting on enemy ground. Last year in Pittsburgh, he faced Paul Spadafora and did more than enough in many observers eyes to win the decision. Instead, he had to settle for an unpopular draw.
It has the making of another Gatti thriller.
But are we asking for a bit too much? Perhaps, it's unfair to expect a 'fight of the year' every time out from him.
” Well,” contemplates Merchant,” he's raised our expectations. It's not that we expect it from him, this is his DNA. This is what he does and so I don't think he can fight any other way.”
And we wouldn't have it any other way.