He doesn't have the dance steps of a Floyd Mayweather Jr., the lights-out right hand of a Tommy Hearns, or the chiseled chin of a Rocky Marciano. He bruises easier than an over- ripe banana, and if you stare at him too long, he cuts.
The bones in his hands crumble at the first sign of trouble, and after 13 years in the fight game – thanks to trainer Buddy McGirt – he finally discovered that out-finessing a guy can be more fun than out-slugging him.
Arturo Gatti has arrived, though he was never too far away. He was always just on the outskirts of boxing fame and fortune, just out of reach of the big bucks and the big fight.
Always stuck in the shadows.
Now he's one of the first names you hear when they start talking about world championships and title fights at 140 pounds. Suddenly, his name is sharing the same sentence with names like Mayweather and Kostya Tszyu.
On top of it all, Gatti has this crazy idea that being an executioner inside the ring and a nice guy outside it, isn't all bad. You can actually get away with being both tough and classy.
Yeah, Gatti has arrived all right. He punctuated his presence Saturday night in Atlantic City with a quick knockout over tough Leonard Dorin. A Gatti left hook slammed to the body was all it took for Dorin to lose his ability to get to his feet. And Gatti, who held onto his WBC title belt, is suddenly hotter than the dance line at Harrah's.
It was a long, hard climb to the top of his division for Gatti, and now that he's there, he’s starting to make himself comfortable, reminding everyone that the days of cheap labor are over.
“I was thinking of taking a couple months off after the fight,” Gatti said when it was over. “But since this fight was so easy, I don’t know.”
What Gatti does know is, the next time won’t be “so easy.” If his next fight is against Mayweather, Gatti will slip down to underdog status. Like Roy Jones Jr., said Saturday night, Mayweather is the “better boxer.” Maybe the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
What Jones didn't say is, Gatti is the bigger puncher.
“Of course I want to fight Mayweather,” Gatti said. “But it’s all up to Main Events, HBO and my manager. I just want to start increasing my paycheck.”
Finally. A fighter who knows how the fight game works.
You can bet HBO wants the Mayweather-Gatti fight. But you can also be pretty sure Main Events and Gatti's manger, Pat Lynch, will talk long and hard about the fight before signing any papers.
Besides, Jesse James Leija, who won a close decision over top prospect Francisco Bojada on Saturday night, might be just the right guy for Gatti. At 38, Leija doesn't have much time left in his search for a big payday. And like Gatti, he's a classy pro out of Texas who draws a pretty good crowd every time he slips on the gloves.
And he's not the threat Mayweather is.
For Gatti, the party has just started. Let's not have someone crash it.