In anticipation of his IBA showdown with Thomas Damgaard, Arturo Gatti and his crew, Buddy McGirt, Pat Lynch, et al, hit Mickey Mantle’s on 59th Street in midtown Manhattan to hype Saturday’s big fight at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. The boxing press was crammed in the back of the restaurant, as is usually the case, but there was no beefy blond security detail, unlike the Hasim Rahman-James Toney press conference at Tavern on the Green two weeks ago, nor was there any need. Damgaard was in training and unable to attend the festivities, so without a foil to play off of, the press conference turned into a love-in, a love fest, a wall-to-wall familial get-together honoring the irresistible Arturo Gatti.
I was seated at a table on a raised area to the left of the dais with Tom Hauser, boxing writer par excellence, Ron Scott Stevens, chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission, and a young man who’s dating the daughter of Carl Moretti, matchmaker for Main Events. Nibbling chicken that looked like pork but tasted like rubber, pasta drowning in a crimson sauce, fried bisected baby potatoes, and a Caesar salad to die for, we all agreed, amidst the fanfare, adulation and indigestible industrial food, that Arturo Gatti ought to call it quits.
Gatti was never a great fighter, but he was damn good fighter; maybe even a damned good fighter. Whether it was in the first half of his career when he led with his face or his most recent incarnation as a boxer-puncher, Gatti never dogged it, never gave less than his all, and the fans fell in love with a real life Rocky. Despite all that unconditional affection, Gatti’s still not getting the big money fights, the Floyd Mayweather fiasco aside. So if he earns a few more paydays, has a few more bouts, takes and gives a few more punches, what difference does it make?
We all love Arturo Gatti, but we don’t want to love him to death, so when is enough enough?
I cornered his promoter, Main Events’ Kathy Duva, at the Mickey Mantle’s press conference and asked her exactly that.
That’s a question you have to ask Arturo, she said. He has undergone a battery of tests that were mandated by the New Jersey Commission we were more than happy to comply and he passed with flying colors. Different athletes have different life spans, and the day he tells us he wants to hang it up, I’ll be the last person to argue with him. As somebody once said a long time ago, every time you watch him fight you wish it’d stop, but you can’t wait until the next one.
But there comes a point where one has to draw the line and let humanity prevail, to demarcate the space between being a high-priced entertainer and a middle-aged fighter taking out a second mortgage on his future.
But he’ll be the first to tell you that he’s enjoying it more now than he ever did, Duva said, and no doubt that’s true, especially because he’s getting hit and cut less than before. And I think that has had a lot to do with extending the shelf life of his career. If he was still fighting like he was three or four years ago there would be no question. But he has morphed into a guy who can hit and not be hit every time and I think that has made all the difference.
I asked Kathy Duva what Main Events had in store for Gatti, assuming he gets past Damgaard Saturday night, and she said, We’re talking with Carlos Baldomir. My face must have registered surprise or pleasure at the thought of Gatti fighting Baldomir, because Duva said, It’s one of the great ironies. It’s what makes this sport so unpredictable and delightful in some cases.