ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — After Arturo Gatti was stopped on a fifth-round TKO by Oscar De La Hoya four years ago, several people thought it was time for Gatti to call it quits. He was only 28 and the wear and tear from several ring wars gave him the look of a shot fighter.
Thanks to a change from brawler to boxer — adapted along the way through three epic wars with Micky Ward — Gatti has resurrected his career, won the WBC super lightweight title and is back on top.
Gatti (38-6, 29 KOs) will make his second title defense in a 12-round match tonight against James Leija (47-6-2, 1 NC, 19 KOs) at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.
If Gatti wins, he will be in line for a mega-match against Floyd Mayweather Jr., who beat Henry Bruseles in a tuneup last week in Miami. And beyond that there are promising matches against Kostya Tszyu and Miguel Cotto.
Gatti’s timing couldn’t be better. He is one of the hottest boxers in one of the most competitive divisions. And to think that just four years ago some were ready to put him on the scrap heap.
“Look at me now,” Gatti said recently. “I feel good. I’m in great shape.”
Indeed, Gatti weighed in at a fit and trim 140 pounds on Friday. Leija was also at the mandatory 140-pound limit.
Much of Gatti’s transformation has come from his willingness to switch styles. Right after the loss to De La Hoya, Gatti decided to hire Buddy McGirt as his trainer. McGirt had been watching Gatti from early in his career.
“Along the way he got caught up in entertaining the crowd, getting into slugfests and looking for the one-punch knockout,” McGirt said. “It was easy to get him to go back to basics, really. He wanted to extend his career and he knew the only way to do that was to box.”
Gatti is 5-1 in his two years with McGirt. The only loss was the first bout against Ward, when he threw the boxing fundamentals out the window and decided to brawl.
McGirt said the stylistic switch probably extended Gatti’s career by three or four years.
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