I remember when I was a relatively small child, back when Tyson ruled the roost, and a new Rocky movie was never far away. Even back then, as I watched Rocky and Ivan Drago pummel each other, I was fully aware that what I witnessed on screen was a virtual caricature of the real thing. Quite simply, it didn’t, nor would it ever, happen that way. Wouldn’t it be cool if it did, though? I can only imagine that Arturo Gatti had that very thought in mind as he set out on his chosen path. As I sit here, my mind trying to isolate one early highlight that epitomizes Gatti, it occurred to me: should Hollywood see fit to film a Gatti biopic, how could a director pull it off without the ring action appearing gratuitous in the extreme? Indeed, your typical Gatti fight makes Rocky vs. Clubber Lang look like a “chess match.’ But I digress. There is one fight that I always come back to when I think of Gatti: his fight against Wilson Rodriguez. This fight will tell you everything you need to know about Gatti: it has drama, bloodshed, all out action and some more drama, just for good measure. For those of you who haven’t seen it, I’m sorry I can’t go into more detail. If I did, this piece would snowball into an epic of sorts. And I think that’s more of my writing than anyone can take, myself included.
More recently, Gatti has curbed his aggressive style. Through his trainer, Buddy McGirt, his technique has evolved, making him an all “round better fighter and undoubtedly prolonging his career. Many peopleâ€”erroneously, in my opinionâ€”feel that Gatti is a limited fighter. His previous style was his greatest asset, but, at the same time, fuel for his harshest critics. Gatti, having adapted his style, is now the target of criticism from some of his former fans. To balance this out, you would expect his more cautious style to quell the critics’ appetite for a vitriolic rant. This is not the case, however. Gatti is, and always will be ready to mix it up when necessary.
He is still an incredibly exciting fighter to watch, without feeling the need to charge in chin first at every opportunity. The fact is, Gatti is now the WBC light-welterweight champion and his reign is entirely dependant on his style. Gatti is an immensely talented fighter. The more I watch him move in his recent fights, the more I see how naturally talented he is. If he is limited, the old adage “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” would be a sound explanation for this; however, as I said before, I’m inclined to disagree. Tomorrow nights eagerly anticipated match-up with Jesse James Leija will, no doubt, further elucidate on this.
Jesse James Leija, by contrast, is an entirely different breed of boxing legend. Besides his own, you won’t hear many kids profess their desire to base their style on that of Jesse James Leija. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with Leija’s style; he’s simply not a “name’ to the casual fan. Lesser known but no less talented than his opponent, most would argue, Leija has been around the block several times. Having already challenged the likes of Oscar de la Hoya, Azumah Nelson, Shane Mosley and Kostya Tszyu for world titles at various weights, Leija has experience very much on his side. Why should this shot be any different? Well, at the age of thirty-eight, this is certainly Leija’s last chance. That in itself is motivation enough. With retirement surely looming, he can afford to give it his all, without worrying about having to fight another day.
Leija’s brief reign as WBC super featherweight champion is scant consolation for a man of his ability. When it has really mattered, Leija has come up short. There is no reasonable explanation for this. Is he not quite one of the elite? Possibly. Does he choke on the Big Night? Again, possibly. Personally, the former appears the more plausible explanation. Come tomorrow night, though, none of that matters. He will have to forget about the past and pull out a vintage performance to have any chance. Should Leija roll back the years, us fans could be in for something very special, indeed. Hell, let’s hope they both roll back the years. Personally, I can’t wait to find out if they do.
James MacDonald can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org