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Gatti stops Leija in fifth; Mayweather may be next

Referee Earl Brown points Arturo Gatti toward his corner after a knockdown of
Referee Earl Brown points Arturo Gatti toward his corner after a knockdown of "Jesse" James Leija. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Associated Press

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Arturo Gatti retained his WBC 140-pound title Saturday, stopping “Jesse” James Leija in the fifth round and avoiding the kind of slugfests that have made his career.

Before a sellout crowd that cheered his every move, Gatti landed a hard overhand right on a retreating Leija, knocking him down early in the round. But Leija narrowly beat referee Earl Brown’s 10-count and got to his feet just as Brown got to 10.

Gatti then teed off on him after that, finally dropping Leija for good with a left hand to the ear that toppled the former 130-pound champion. Leija, of San Antonio, managed to get to his knees but the referee called an end to the fight at 1:48 of the fifth.

The fight set up a possible June bout with unbeaten Floyd Mayweather Jr., that would be the richest of Gatti’s career.

Gatti, the old-fashioned brawler who has made a career out of comeback victories and toe-to-toe slugfests, didn’t have to reach deep against Leija.

With the crowd of 12,599 on his side, he forced the action from the start, leading with left jabs and making Leija pay with hard counter punches whenever he attacked.

Leija (47-7-2), who had hoped to use Gatti’s punch-trading style against him, connected with a right cross to the head early in the second and later a solid left to Gatti’s face as the champion advanced.

But Gatti (39-6) was never in trouble, and he was never cut as in many of his previous fights.

Gatti made $2 million for the second defense of his WBC title. Leija made $700,000.

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