Arturo Gatti's Long and Winding Road to Jessie James Leija
By Danny Serratelli (December 2, 2005) 
I first met brothers Joe and Arturo Gatti back in 1992, while training at Lou Costello's gym in Patterson New Jersey. It was a small gym, pretty old and dirty looking, but not the worst place I've seen, plus the price was right. What I know now that I didn't really know then was that the small gym was packed with championship caliber talent. By late 1993 I would be involved in a car accident that would almost cost me my left eye, and by the time I was healed, the gym was no longer in the same location (I think the roof caved in). However, I have a lot of memories from my time in that gym that I will never forget.

The head trainer at Costello's at that time was Diego Rosario. He trained a lot of the guys in the gym and later trained former heavyweight titleholder Bruce Seldon. Oscar Suarez was a young trainer at the time helping out as well. We all know he went on to train former champ Prince Naseem Hamed, and currently trains former world champion Acelino Freitas. There were several others who helped out in the small gym including Frankie Toledo Sr. His boys were already good fighters when I joined Costello’s, Frankie as a professional and David as a young amateur. Frankie has since held the IBF Featherweight title, and David went on to have a successful professional career as well.

There were several fighters I remember from the small gym during the same time period that would eventually go on to have successful professional careers. Off the top of my head I can remember Scott DePompe, Freddy Curiel, and Johnny Molnar from Costello's. The last two I can think of are guys who were from Canada who had been training at Costello's for a little while at that point. The prospect in the gym at the time was "Lightening" Joe Gatti. Around the time I joined Costello's, Joe was something like 20-2, 16 KO's, and people were talking about a title shot in the near future. Joe's younger brother Arturo "Thunder" Gatti was also a regular in the gym. At the time he only had a few professional fights. I can remember when he picked up his first loss in his 7th fight a decision in Philadelphia at the Blue Horizon. At that stage of his career, it did not appear that anyone had any idea of what the future would hold for Arturo. I remember Arturo from the gym, at the time I was about 17 and he was around 21, which seemed like a more substantial age difference than it does now. He was always a nice guy, looking to help the younger guys like me any time.

Joe got his title shot soon after but, unfortunately for him it was against a pound for pound contender in champion Terry Norris, and Joe was stopped in round 1. About a year later, after a bunch of early round knockouts, Arturo would get a chance to fight for the USBA belt against Pete Taliafero. I remember going to the fight with friends in New Jersey, except unlike the other fights I had been at when I was always confident in the result, this time I was a little anxious. Taliafero had beaten former world champion Bernard Taylor only four months prior. I think everyone there for Arturo was a little nervous at the time because the fight on paper, represented a big step up in class. However, any anxious feelings were quickly put to rest when Arturo stopped Taliafero by TKO in the 1st.

By this time I had started training at Gleason's in Brooklyn, where Arturo and Joe also trained at the time. Although they usually came earlier than I did, I'd occasionally run into Arturo's new trainer, Hector Roca. Why I remember this, is because around that time, in the summer of 1994, I clearly remember watching Arturo making his 1st defense of his USBA title with a 10th round TKO over Richard Salazar. The memory of watching that fight on television is more clear to me than if I had made the trip to Philly because I watched the day after I broke my nose sparring in Gleason's. Despite the annoying fact that my nose had swelled up and still dripping blood the next day, I was glad to see Arturo stop Salazar in the 10th, especially since it was his first trip back to Philly since the loss.

Danny Serratelli with Arturo Gatti
I was at his next fight back in New Jersey against former world champ Jose Sanabria. That fight was a tough one for Arturo, but a good learning experience. It was probably the last time he fought in New Jersey where the crowd was split, as I remember there were a lot of Sanabria supporters. It is funny that he was the co-feature and the main event was Arturo's present trainer James Buddy McGirt. McGirt captured an easy unanimous decision over veteran Kevin Pompey that night, while Arturo had a tough fight that required him to dig deep to take the decision over Sanabria.

Within a year of the Sanabria fight, Arturo would fight 5 more times, winning all by KO, four of them in round number one. At the time, he was hoping for a major title shot. Talk was of a potential title fight with the new IBF Super Featherweight champ, Lou Duva’s lightening quick southpaw Eddie Hobson. However, Tracy Harris Paterson got the shot at Hobson and exposed his chin in devastating fashion, taking his title. I remember telling Arturo it was too bad he didn’t get to Hobson first after seeing Hobson fold to Patterson so easily, and was a little surprised when Arturo calmly said that it was fine and he was sure he’d do the same to Tracy Patterson.

Danny Serratelli with Jessie J. Leija
Following the Patterson fight Gatti stayed active knocking out Barrington Francis in the 5th round just four days later, and Carlos Vergara in the first round in October of 1995 to set up the title fight between Patterson and Gatti in December of 1995. Patterson had picked up another knockout victory since the Hobson fight as well. The fight would be part of the “Return to the Mecca” card at boxing's return to Madison Square Garden. Their fight was the co feature with the main event featuring Oscar de la Hoya against none other than Jesse James Leija. Gatti dropped Patterson early that night, and gutted out the decision despite a late rush by Patterson. Leija was stopped by De la Hoya , who seemed indestructible at lightweight in round number two.

Back in 1995, Leija was already a veteran of 33 fights and had held a victory over the legendary Azumah Nelson. Here we are over 9 years later, and it appears that despite all the wars, cuts, and several losses, both Gatti and Leija may still be on or near the top of their games. This will be a great fight no matter what happens.

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