New York, March 23--On a dreary, rainy day in which the boxing press and various industry bigwigs gathered at the Copacabana on 34th St. expecting to see “Thunder,” in the form of WBC Super Lighweight champ Arturo Gatti, the fighter did not appear at his own press conference for his June 25th HBO Pay-Per-View showdown against Floyd Mayweather, Jr.
Gatti’s people claimed he was suffering from a 102-degree fever and stomach flu, but they said he would be well enough to attend a midday press conference at another venue tomorrow. (Well, the slugger’s always demonstrated amazing recuperative powers. See round 5 of Gatti-Ward I.)
In Gatti’s absence, the brash “Pretty Boy” Floyd basked in all the attention, as scores of camcorders, tape recorders, camera flashes and furiously scribbling reporters encircled him and noted his every word and move. This reporter was unable to penetrate the thicket of overfed bodies, and had to stand on his tiptoes to get a glimpse of Mayweather’s face. And what a face it is—not in a million years would you pick this guy out of a crowd and say, “Boxer!” (Not so with Gatti’s scar-tissued mug.) Model-handsome with not even a shaving nick, Mayweather’s clean features are a testament to his utter genius in the ring and what has been up until now a brilliant 33-0 career against a who’s who of 130 and 135 pounders. (Disregard his first fight with Jose Luis Castillo, which we know he did not win.)
Mayweather doesn’t so much fight as he puts on a Performance: his footwork would make Willie Pep blush; he feints (head, hands and feet) and rolls his shoulder with the best of the old-school; he has a beautiful jab, an imaginative gallery of punches and is one of the best closers in boxing. These are skills he learned at his father’s knee, and has honed with his current trainer and uncle, Roger Mayweather. The rest of the credit must go to God. As he explained to the assembled media, “On February 24, 1977, a great fighter was born.”
Indeed. But here’s the part he quaintly left out: Can this great fighter draw? Hell no, not even in his home state of Michigan. Mayweather is a pay-per-view virgin, as is Arturo Gatti. In Gatti’s case, however, he could sell out Atlantic City Boardwalk Hall in a couple hours if the opponent was his shadow. This is because he’s got an abundance of what his trainer, James “Buddy” McGirt, calls “Nuts & Guts.” He also punches like a mule kick, has snatched victory from the jaws of defeat countless times and, let’s be honest, he’s a paisan.
If Mayweather is to become a superstar, a name the general sports fan will know, he needs a big win over Gatti. As far as proving to himself and all those who watch boxing that he belongs in Canastota, and isn’t just a carefully managed, glorified club fighter, Gatti needs Mayweather. And they both need each other showing up to their own press conferences—sick or not—if they want insure respectable PPV numbers.
Gatti-Mayweather will cap off what looks to be the greatest four months of boxing (which unofficially began with Pacquiao-Morales) that I can recall. With ESPN’s deep PPV card in late April, Trinidad-Wright in mid-May, and Tszyu-Hatton in early June, boxing junkies around the world might experience a collective overdose if sparks fly in on June 25th.
Buddy McGirt informed everyone that Gatti will turn Mayweather’s lights out by throwing a right hand behind Floyd’s left ear, on the medulla oblongata. Anyone who has watched Floyd fight in recent times knows that he tucks his chin behind his left shoulder and uses his right arm to parry shots. (Oscar De La Hoya, under the tutelage of Floyd Mayweather, Sr., has used this technique with limited success—when he does it, he only seems to get punched in the face more than usual.) Floyd, Jr. employs this style effectively, taking few shots square on the chin and getting off sneaky right uppercuts the opponent doesn’t see coming. One drawback, though, is that it requires him to hold his left arm very low. Thus, while his chin may be protected, McGirt feels the area behind the left ear is exposed. McGirt chuckled as he explained all of this, as he seemed to relish saying the words medulla oblongata and the puzzled expressions on people’s faces.
Upon doing some research on the Internet, I found a definition (“The medulla oblongata functions primarily as a relay station for the crossing of motor tracts between the spinal cord and the brain. It also contains the respiratory, vasomotor and cardiac centers, as well as many mechanisms for controlling reflex activities such as coughing, gagging, swallowing and vomiting.”) and a diagram of this humorously named part of the brain, which seems to be roughly in the spot McGirt said it would. Doesn’t sound like a picnic getting cracked on the medulla oblongata. Watch out, Floyd.