With swollen shut eyes, a broken right hand, and a dehydrated, cracked voice, Arturo Gatti said he would’ve retired had he lost to Thomas Damgaard. But since he didn’t, stopping the Dane at 2:54 of the 11th with a debilitating left hook, Atlantic City’s beloved cash cow was feeling rather optimistic Saturday night.
“I’m just gettin’ started,” the 33-year-old joked after his match at Boardwalk Hall, a venue at which he has spilled blood in 12 times and counting.
Gatti’s next opponent comes as no secret.
“Carlos Baldomir wants to make money,” Gatti said. “I want to win the titles.”
The previously unknown Baldomir embarrassed Zab Judah on January 7th, winning a unanimous decision over the undisputed welterweight champ. Pay no mind to sanctioning body politicos who’ve denied him two of the three belts he earned. Any reasonable fight fan knows he’s now The Man at 147.
Last night, another unknown quantity in Thomas Damgaard wobbled, but couldn’t topple, a major apple cart. Gatti is Main Events’ biggest asset, bar none. HBO Boxing has broadcast 18 of his battles—hell, they’d gladly feature him and Mickey Ward duking it out from wheelchairs when the time comes. When he fights in AC, the casinos don’t just fill up, the sea level rises three inches.
All this for someone who cuts and swells easily, has brittle hands, was annihilated by Oscar De La Hoya in 2001 and didn’t land a single punch against Floyd Mayweather last year. A guy many regard as a glorified club fighter. Moreover, he stepped up to welterweight Saturday, a move proved ill-advised when attempted several years ago. Of course, all this sounds cynical when you consider the excitement and drama that usually unfolds when he steps foot on canvas.
Damgaard (37-0, 27 KOs going in) made his ring walk to the Tina Turner anthem “Simply the Best.” In Denmark, that means something if you’re talking avant-garde filmmakers. The boos pelting the Dane were eventually washed out by booming cheers for the house fighter. Gatti’s one of the few fighters every person (press row included) stands for when he approaches the ring. When he enters Boardwalk Hall, it’s something you never get over—all you can do is return for your next fix. Now that he’s 47 bruising bouts into his career—40-7, 31 KOs—each ring walk becomes more cherished. Michael Buffer did his shtick, but there was no competing with the crowd; he might as well have just moved his lips.
In the opening round, Gatti displayed his underappreciated boxing skills. He moves beautifully, and was endowed with rhythm and timing you can’t teach. Before calling him a club fighter, critics should pop in a tape of Philly’s Chucky T, and compare notes.
But as Gatti confessed to reporters afterwards, “You know me, once in a while I like to trade.”
Yeah, we’ve noticed that, Arturo.
Gatti would occasionally sit down on his punches and fire off a hard combination. But it was evident early on that the southpaw Damgaard was the stronger man, even though he was less physically imposing. He relentlessly stalked Gatti in an un-European Frazieresque crouch, and took his best shots. When Gatti connected clean, it would stop him in his tracks for a split-second. Then he immediately resumed his forward march, seemingly unfazed.
Gatti was boxing smart—which he tries to do more often these days—and took the first three rounds. Damgaard’s mug was an angry mass of red tissue, but he accepted the punishment in order to get his short arms in range. There was a growing tension in the building, knowing Gatti would have to stick and move as long as it goes. When engaging in a dangerous exchange, he got the worse end of it.
That’s what happened in the 4th frame, where Damgaard almost shifted the tide. Gatti was hurt several times and wasn’t firing back. Sometimes he’d fold his torso over on the inside, stand still, and allow himself to get hit. Later, he confessed he had the wind knocked out of him, and needed a couple rounds to recover. At the bell, Gatti mustered a hard right hand, to the relief of nearly all 11,568 in attendance. How judge Henry Grant scored the round for him, though, is inexplicable.
The following round, a deafening “GATTI, GATTI, GATTI” chant, seemed to inspire him. He planted his feet a few times and released combos that earned him respect. Still, Damgaard pushed forward. In the next round, Gatti turned southpaw, usually a sign an opponent has you flummoxed. Or, in his case, hand problems. He says this is when his right hand was broken. Damgaard understood this and attempted to capitalize on it.
In the seventh through ninth, Gatti looked weary, sometimes retreating to the ropes on shaky legs, other times folding his body over as he had done before. But he generally gave as good as he got. Heading into the 10th, Damgaard’s skin had finally split open and bled into his eyes.
Gatti’s cornerman Buddy McGirt must’ve given his charge a good pep talk, because he looked revitalized heading into the championship rounds, sticking and moving with aplomb. Feeling desperate, the Dane acted like a Jersey City hood in the 11th, holding the back of Gatti’s head with his right and burying short lefts to the other side. He received a warning from referee Lindsey Page, and Gatti, a classy boxer despite his penchant for brutality, didn’t foul back. Rather, he kept it clean and for the first time in the fight had the opponent backing up.
One backward step and it was a fait accompli. Ever the closer, Gatti pounded away, ending the job with his signature left hook. Damgaard was shaken badly and unable to continue.
After so many hard years, the House of Gatti is still standing.