Atlantic City, NJ — The legend of Arturo Gatti continues to grow. After boxing behind his jab for much of the first four rounds, he blew away Jesse James Leija, dropping him twice in the fifth round to the delight of 12,599 fans at Boardwalk Hall.
The chants of “Gatti, Gatti, Gatti” began moments after the opening bell. But the WBC super lightweight champion resisted the urge to seek and destroy his 38-year-old opponent. It appeared that Gatti was not interested in matching his previous blood-and-guts heroics on the boardwalk. While the crowd anticipated mayhem, Gatti patiently practiced his craft. You can blame trainer Buddy McGirt for that, or, perhaps, you can thank him for extending the warrior's career.
“I knew I needed my jab,” said Gatti. “He's very crafty, very experienced. So I knew the way to beat him was with my jab.”
Gatti has arrived at a point where he may not be able to live up to the standard he has set. And with the toll such battles take on one's body, he may not even want to. Perhaps only Evander Holyfield can match Gatti for pure excitement among fighters of this generation. Gatti is the consummate action-fighter, spilling his blood and coming back for more and more and more until his opponent withers under the attack. But Saturday, he boxed for a while, which is kind of like going to a baseball game and watching Barry Bonds hit four singles. It's nice, but it's not what you paid for.
Just when the fight could have taken a turn toward monotony – imagine using that word to describe a Gatti fight? – Arturo struck.
BOOM! A thunderous right hand leveled Leija along the ropes. The former junior lightweight champion rose at the count of eight. To his credit, Leija fired back. He launched a vicious right of his own as Gatti moved in to finish the evening. Leija was still wobbly, but he was determined to fight back, launching punches until the very end.
Gatti kept pursuing and finally connected with a left hook that sent Leija down again. The classy and courageous fighter from San Antonio was counted out at 1:48 of the fifth round.
“We knew he was strong,” said Leija. “We never doubted that. I just couldn't get into a rhythm tonight.”
“I never thought he'd get up after the right hand that dropped him the first time,” said Gatti. “I expected the right hand to be the difference.”
So, once again, Gatti sent home a sellout crowd feeling satisfied. It was not the toe-to-toe slugfest his partisans have come to expect. Rather, he flashed the kind of stunning power that electrifies an arena. It did the trick tonight.
The win also moved Gatti a step closer to a showdown with Floyd Mayweather Jr. Gatti has a June 11 date set with HBO and will return to the boardwalk for that fight. The hope is that Pretty Boy Floyd will be the opponent, although legal issues with Mayweather and purse splits still have to be cleared.
“I'm going to fight again on June 11, but I don't know who the opponent will be,” said Gatti. “I want to fight him, but we're not going to wait forever.”