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Gatti: Blood and Guts or Stick and Move?
By Brent Hedtke (June 3, 2004) 
Arturo Gatti
Two years ago the mere thought of Arturo Gatti and Leonard Dorin even being in the same room would spark "Fight of the Year" murmurs amongst the boxing community. Fight fans could expect nothing less than these two face first brawlers to stand toe to toe like Rock em’ Sock em’ Robots and trade blows with little regard for words like "jab" and even less desire to "bob" or "weave." But like Anna Nicole Smith’s waistline, things have changed. After his first fight with Micky Ward (arguably the best fight in the greatest trilogy of all time) Gatti decided that maybe he didn’t so much enjoy all the broken hands and swollen eyes that fighting like Rocky Balboa garnered.

As a result, he enlisted the services of trainer extraordinaire, James "Buddy" McGirt. Under the tutelage of McGirt, Gatti’s transformation from "Human Highlight Reel," to consummate boxer/sometimes slugger came into fruition. It showed in the second Ward fight as Gatti boxed and moved his way to a wide margin points victory over "Irish" Micky.

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The change in Gatti’s style has incensed some of his fans who, over the years, have become accustomed to his "no pain, no gain" style and his "never say die" attitude. The change between the Gatti of yesterday and the Gatti that lifted the WBC 140 lb. title from Gianluca Branco this past January has been somewhat drastic but come on people, this isn’t "Dylan Goes Electric." This is a fighter who has been a part of four of the last seven of Ring Magazine’s Fights of the Year. This is a man who saw that fighting like "the real life Rocky" only has one foreseeable outcome. I mean, you all saw Rocky V right?

The decision to box or brawl is one that every fighter must make. Do you want the fans to love you or do you want your kids to love you? I’m not speaking for all toddlers, but most would agree that it’s hard to give a welcome home kiss to the pile of flesh sitting where you use to keep your face. It’s a tough choice and one that many fighters choose to reevaluate in the second half of their careers.

Living featherweight legend Marco Antonio Barrera has made the same transition that Gatti has. After the second of his two thrilling fights with Mexican rival Erik Morales, Barrera realized that he must be the oldest 28 year old on the planet. After 12 years and almost 60 fights, Barrera made the move from Mexican brawler to stick and counter boxer. It served him well in his decisive 12 round beating of Johnny Tapia and in his four round trouncing of Kevin Kelley.

What happened in November of last year however was the epitome of what can go wrong in the transformation from brawler to boxer. Against Manny Pacquiao, a fighter he said reminded him of himself when he was younger, Barrera’s plan to outbox the Filipino backfired and Pacquiao overpowered Barrera with a viscous assault that rendered the Mexican superstar virtually helpless for 11 one sided rounds.

Some speculate that Barrera virtually got old in the ring against Pacquiao. At only 29 years of age, it would be tough to imagine that his body failed him. Many have said that the Barrera of the past would’ve had more answers for the young Pacquiao and possibly been able to stop him. While that is mere speculation the thought is certainly intriguing. Could the Marco Antonio Barrera that twice went toe to toe with Erik Morales and embarrassed Prince Naseem Hamed have fared better against the onslaught of Manny Pacquiao? Arguably, yes.

Trying to perfect both sides of the sweet science can be tricky. Every day we are faced with the choice of "fight or flight," and the ability to decide which is right is an innate human quality. Amongst fighters though, the wrong choice can spell the end of the fight or worse.

Look back to 1941 and Billy Conn’s fateful decision to try to duke it out with Heavyweight Champion Joe Louis. Over the course of the first twelve rounds, light heavyweight Conn used his speed and footwork to outbox, outmaneuver and ultimately frustrate the Champion Louis. In a fight that he was undoubtedly winning Conn switched tactics in the 13th round and decided to go toe to toe with the Brown Bomber. All it took was a right hand from Louis to remind Billy what happens when a good big guy hits a good little guy. Conn was counted out and the Heavyweight Championship that he was minutes from claiming went home with Louis.

The switching of styles can work in the opposite order as well. Look at current Lightweight Champion and pound for pound applicant Floyd Mayweather, JR. For years Mayweather’s talent was inversely proportional to the excitement level his fights provided. While nobody ever questioned Floyd’s ability, his safety-first style and defense oriented fight plans turned many fans off to the "Pretty Boy". At times he showed glimpses of his power, but more often than not Mayweather was content to put on a one sided boxing clinic while put his fans to sleep at the same time.

Recently though, Floyd has shown that his brittle hands pack more power than meets the eye. Last November Mayweather delivered a highlight reel knockout of the always-dangerous Philip N’dou in a fight most thought he would try to play it safe. More recently Floyd served up two knockdowns against former 140 lb. titlist Demarcus Corley in his junior welterweight debut. That kind of power mixed with Floyd’s blinding hand speed could be the key to the superstardom that has thus far eluded the ever so marketable Mayweather.

So which Gatti will show up on July 24th against Dorin? Who knows? Gatti says he won’t brawl, but if there’s anyone who can return Gatti to his style of old, it’s Leo Dorin. Hell, this is the guy that sucked Paul Spadafora into a knockdown drag out affair last year. Will Gatti’s emphasis on stick and move boxing result in him suffering the same fate as Barrera? If he does return to his face first style, how many fights will he have left in him? This and more will all be answered in the coming months. All we know now is that neither of these two has ever been in a bad fight and this one will surely be no different, regardless of the compubox jab stats.

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