Franchise Thoughts: Remembering Thunder Gatti, Anticipating the World Boxing Classic

I was getting ready to do the round by round for the Joseph Agbeko-Vic Darchinyan fight Saturday when I got the text message from Uatu telling me that Arturo Gatti was dead. Details were scarce in the first few hours, but my first reaction was one of disbelief.

He was, after all, just a few days past his 37th birthday. He'd been in the ring as recently as two summers ago, though that TKO loss to Alfonso Gomez is not the way his fans would probably prefer to remember him.

The story of his untimely demise continues to unfold, and it appears Gatti was the victim of foul play, perhaps by his own wife. That's a pretty raw deal for someone who was such a courageous fighter once he stepped inside the ropes.

Gatti will hold a special place in my heart for two reasons. First, his trilogy with Micky Ward that really put him on the map coincided with the beginning of my time as a serious boxing fan. The sport sold itself with fights like those.

Also, I was fortunate enough to see Gatti fight in person at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City several times, and the reaction he got from those crowds was something to see. It's kind of strange to think that a Canadian who was born in Italy would be adopted so completely by the Jersey fans, yet that's exactly what happened.

There's probably a lesson to be learned there for younger fighters still coming up. In terms of boxing skill, Gatti was never one of the best in the world - he was taken apart pretty easily by Oscar De La Hoya and given a merciless beating by Floyd Mayweather - but the heart he displayed was more important to his followers.

Fighting a crowd-pleasing style and laying it all on the line may not always be the best way to win any given fight, and it certainly puts you at risk of physical damage and a shortened career. Gatti showed, though, that it does go a long way toward winning people over, and that certainly counts for something.

HBO is replaying the Ward trilogy in its entirety Friday night on HBO2 and Saturday morning on HBO. I plan on catching at least one of those showings as my own small personal tribute.

R.I.P. Thunder. You certainly did more than enough in the ring to earn it.

In happier but no less stunning news, the six-man super middleweight tournament dreamed up on Showtime was made official yesterday. I felt a little sheepish thinking it could actually come together last week, but that feeling is quickly turning to excitement.

It's not hyperbole to say that this is the most welcome change in the way things usually proceed in boxing in decades. It took a lot of creativity and guts on Showtime's part to even suggest it, a lot of vision on the part of the fighters to agree to it and a surprising amount of cooperation from five different promoters to make it a reality.

Assuming the proper amount of push from the network, there's every reason to think that the winner and perhaps the other finalist will become big stars even in the eyes of casual fans. That outweighs the risk of, say, going 0-3, but as we've discussed internally, at least the losers of early fights are still guaranteed two more big ones, and that rarely happens.

Things could still unravel - this is still boxing - but I'm going to assume that at least the first set of fights will go as planned and give my very early thoughts on the U.S. versus Europe portion of the round robin:
  • Carl Froch vs. Andre Dirrell - I think it's likely that Dirrell has the most God-given talent of anyone in the tournament. The question is whether he's ready for a challenge like this, and Gary Shaw is rightfully a little concerned about fighting Froch on his home turf too. My gut says Dirrell will pull it off, giving him a ton of confidence going forward.
  • Arthur Abraham vs. Jermain Taylor - It's a shame for Taylor, who I really like, because I think this style match-up is a bad one for him. Bad Intentions has shown an undeniable habit of fading late, while Abraham starts slowly and turns it on as he goes. Unless Jermain gets to him early or he's just outmuscled at 168, I think King Arthur stays undefeated.
  • Mikkel Kessler vs. Andre Ward - To me, this is the toughest call. Ward seems like he has everything except for top level power, and Kessler really impressed me in the only fight of his that I've seen (his loss to Joe Calzaghe). I favor Kessler right now but could see myself flip-flopping several times before November.

Those are three tasty fights, with the promise of nine more to go. I say bring on October.

Posted by The Franchise

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