All guts, little glory

Junior welterweights Arturo “Thunder” Gatti and “Irish” Mickey Ward fought Saturday evening, but you may not have seen or heard about it, since boxing these days has been marginalized by mainstream sporting press.

The third fight in this trilogy was in keeping with the previous two: a brutal, vicious affair that, sadly, is a rarity these days. To say this latest episode was only third best is akin to saying George Harrison was the third best Beatle. All three fights were stunning examples of what the fight game should be.

There were no titles at stake, and, compared to heavyweight purses, not much money either. Instead, what we got was action times ten rounds, with the 140-pounders fighting, as opposed to the clinching, holding and biting that have marred recent heavyweight title encounters. In the fourth round, Gatti broke his right hand (as he did in the second fight) from an uppercut that landed squarely on Ward’s hip. Nonetheless, he still managed to keep Ward at bay with a consistent left jab, and an occasional right thrown in to keep Ward honest. Ward, for his part, floored Gatti in the sixth round with an overhand right, but Gatti won the unanimous decision.

Ward stated before and after the fight that he would retire, and what a way to go out for the 37-year-old. He easily could have dispatched a lesser fighter, but the Lowell, Mass., native wanted to give fight fans a treat, knowing that a third fight would be a boon for the sport. Unlike the ancient Evander Holyfield, who is rumored to be in talks with Roy Jones, Jr.’s camp about a possible November fight, Ward knows when to quit, and how to do it with understated style and grace.

Gatti, on the other hand, has all kinds of options ahead of him. The 30-year-old will likely challenge 140-pound champ Kostya Tszyu (can I buy a vowel?), but may find trouble finding a fight, as he is warrior who’s stamina and boxing instincts could shorten a fighter’s career. He may also have a problem moving up in weight. Gatti can take a punch like an operator can take a number, but I don’t think he has the power to match up against big name guys, Oscar De La Hoya (whom he has already lost to by a knockout) or Sugar Shane Mosley, at 154 pounds.

Like horseracing, boxing only receives attention when a significant event comes around, say, a meeting of bona fide champions or a horse attempting to complete the Triple Crown. And usually, the match (or race) is overblown so much that the event can’t help but become a letdown.

In the boxing world, which is perceived more and more as merely Mike Tyson’s sideshow, it’s more than a breath of fresh air to see real boxers like Ward and Gatti. It’s a gale force wind. And lest you think there aren’t enough guys like them in the fight game, think again. There’s prominent fighters like De La Hoya and Jones, lesser know guys like light heavyweight champ and former Olympian Antonio Tarver (who’s 22-1) and middleweight champ Bernard Hopkins. Guys who go about their business with the same class and distinction as Ward and Gatti — a blue-collar ethic which is nice to see in a time when Lennox Lewis says it would take a Brinks truck to get him in the ring.

It’s not that boxing needs more Gattis and Wards; there are plenty of them. What boxing needs to do is get more people seeing these types of fighters in the ring. These are the guys that boxing needs to promote instead of freak shows like Tyson or has-beens like Holyfield. Sadly, that’s where the short-term money is at, and promoters are killing the sport because of it.