By Sean Waisglass: Alright, everybody's giddy with expectation... and why not? When Arturo "Thunder" Gatti and Leonard "The Lion" Dorin meet tonight, it'll be a match up of two proven ring-warriors who've both been in Fight of the Year-type clashes that were recent enough to still evoke wistful smiles and admiring shakes of the head when played back in our mental VCR's.
The bout, which is scheduled for 12 rounds for Gatti's WBC 140lb junior welterweight title, is taking place at the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, NJ. It will be televised by HBO.
A TALE OF TWO WARRIORS
Gatti, 37-6 (28), from Jersey City, NJ, by way of Montreal, Canada, had a string of wonderful and jaw-dropping battles starting with his thrilling eyes-swollen-shut KO of Wilson Rodriguez in '96, then continuing with his uppercut duel with Gabe Ruelas in '97 (both of which were defences of his IBF 130lb title), his shootout with Angel Manfredy in '98, then his two amazing slugfests with Ivan Robinson also in '98. After a stretch of lesser bouts, he returned to glory with his 'modern classic' trilogy of brawls with Mickey Ward in 2002/03.
But in the shadow of the awe-inspiring Gatti/Ward bouts, Dorin, 22-0-1 (8), who's from Montreal by way of Romania, punched in a couple of all-out wars himself that were close runner-ups.
His wild brutally-paced punch-fest with Raul Balbi in January of 2002, in which he won the WBA lightweight title and broke punch-stat records, was buried in the memories of the public by the first Gatti/Ward fight four months later. Dorin's win was controversial, but he proved he was the real deal when he convincingly beat Balbi in an immediate rematch, which was also buried under the Gatti/Ward since the legendary fight had taken place earlier that month.
When Dorin had his second tape-worthy bout - an intense bloodbath of sharp boxing with IBF champ Paul Spadofora - in which the fight was declared a draw though many observers felt Dorin had edged it out, that too was overshadowed by the Gatti/Ward trilogy. Gatti/Ward's third bout, and the second best of the series, was a month after Dorin/Spadafora.
So although the odds and the experts are leaning in Gatti's favour, everyone seems in agreement that this one has 'can't miss' potential to be another awesome addition to both boxer's resumes, and one more for the archives that fight fans of generations ahead will still seek out.
GATTI'S CHANCE TO RAISE HIS REP
But slipping under the boxing media radar is that while most are choosing Gatti to come out on top, for him to do so would be the greatest achievement of his career in terms of his boxing record. No doubt his greatest achievements overall will be weathering the various storms he's had to contend with in his many bouts, but as far as bout-record accomplishments, a win over Dorin would be Gatti's high watermark.
Consider that other than solid wins over the decent champ Tracey Patterson, the post-Jimmy Garcia Gabe Ruelas (the once-great former champ killed his foe and was never the same), and the tough-as-nails and under-rated fringe contender Ward, Gatti hasn't beat any top shelf fighters.
In fact, Gatti's losses aren't even to top shelf fighters, with the exception of his drubbing against Oscar De La Hoya. Gatti lost to some guy named King Solomon early in his career, but also couldn't get past the pair of sharp-boxing contenders Angel Manfredy and Ivan Robinson (whom he lost to twice), or even the rugged Ward their first time.
Gatti's not facing a live underdog in Dorin, he's facing one of the most accomplished boxers of his career.
Dorin won the bronze medal for Romania at two Olympics, 1992 and 1996. That's two Olympic medals, folks - no small feat. He is undefeated, and a former lightweight title holder, who some would argue was semi-unified after controversially drawing with fellow champ Spadafora. And despite what will be an obvious size advantage over the stocky Dorin, Gatti, who's moved up from 130lbs, is facing a guy who's fought around 135/140 his whole pro career.
This ain't no walk in the park (which admittedly in Gatti's case usually means being mugged a few times along the way anyway) - this is a serious, serious challenge.
TWO BOXERS WHO BRAWL
Dorin, despite his single digit knockout record, is a hard, sharp hitter. He might not have one-punch power, but opponents sure look like they feel it when they get clocked. And on top of that, he hits you a lot - a whole hell of a lot. According to Compubox's website, Dorin landed the most punches EVER in a lightweight championship fight recorded by their company when he fought Balbi the first time. In his first Balbi fight and the Spadafora fight, he regularly threw 80-90 punches a round.
Despite his being perceived as a brawling windmill, Dorin is a smart and skilled boxer. The amateur standout's got solid fundamentals, good balance, a stiff jab, mixes up his punches well in close, and can close the gap at range with his overhand right. Although his busy work rate leaves him open to punches, he often has a good tight glove-shield defence, and brings his elbows down to block body shots - which Gatti has made a key weapon as of late.
And with all the clamour and praise being heaped upon McGirt for reviving Gatti, the man in Dorin's corner, like his charge, hasn't been getting the respect he deserves.
Dorin's trainer, Stephane Larouche of Montreal, also trained Eric Lucas to a title, and is a real sleeper amongst the new school of trainers being talked about these days. Larouche is a crafty strategist, a stern and focused cornerman, and an adaptable trainer who brings out the best in fighters by utilizing what's already there. (Larouche will also be working with his super middleweight prospect, Romanian southpaw Lucien Bute, on the undercard tonight.)
Gatti, also a good boxer who's known as a brawler, has cemented his reputation as a real-life Rocky (of the movies, that is), and has always been lovingly chastised for abandoning his apparent skills to slug it out in fan-friendly fights. But his teaming up with respected trainer and former champ Buddy McGirt in 2002 saw a return to the fundamentals that won him his first championship in '95. With McGirt, Gatti was jabbing again, using lateral movement and distance, doing regular body-work, and utilizing crafty waist movement to avoid getting hit as much.
Hell, he still got hit - he's Gatti - but against Millet, in various chunks against Ward, and in his last bout, against Gianluca Branco, in which he won the title, Gatti was boxing like a new man. He would say in interviews that he knew this was his last run at a respectable championship, and that to continue his warring ways would jeopardize his health. But if there was ever a night where he's going to have to revert to blasting away, it's gonna be tonight.
THE BREAKDOWN AND 'THE BREAKDOWN'
Although Gatti has a significant height advantage at 5'8 to Dorin's 5'4, and has been using his jab to keep a beneficial range, Dorin is a skilled pressure fighter - able to cut off the ring and throw such a fierce volume of punches that his opponents, such as the normally defensively-able southpaw Spadafora, are forced to fight. When Gatti fought Patterson, who was similar in size to Dorin, to win his first title in a very close bout, the fast pace of the early rounds wore Gatti down late and allowed Patterson to get in close and land his overhand right - one of Dorin's best punches.
Gatti throws a lot of punches when he has to, but when faced with serious volume - like he was against Robinson in their two bouts - he was edged out. Dorin keeps a similar pace to Robinson, and hits harder too. But Gatti - who destroyed the normally resilient Terron Millet, hurt Ward many a time (including a brutal knockdown in their second fight), and knocked down the sturdy Branco - hits harder than anybody Dorin's ever been in the ring with. How will Dorin react when clobbered by one of Gatti's ruthless left hooks from outside, or one of the raging uppercuts the WBC champ blasts in close?
Plus there's the breakdown.
Dorin was scheduled to fight Miguel Callist last October in his native country of Romania, where he's a huge sports icon. He came in overweight, lost his title on the scales, freaked out, and pulled out of the bout - leading in part to the bankruptcy of his promoters Interbox of Montreal - then declared he was retiring.
The pressure of making weight, keeping a busy pace of tough televised bouts, his wife having their second child, and the pressure of celebrity in Romania broke down the seemingly unbreakable will of the rugged boxer. He recanted his retirement after a break, and returned to dismantle tough journeyman Chucky Tschorniawsky this March in four rounds. Was the breakdown in Romania a one-time thing? He said he'd been boxing for so long, he didn't want to deal with it anymore. Will he feel the same way in his first dangerous fight since that fateful day? When Gatti starts tearing into him, will Dorin cave? The thought wouldn't have crossed most minds after the Balbi and Spadafora battles, but after the Romanian collapse...
Gatti's breakdown threat isn't in his head, but his right hand. Always a problem for the power puncher, it became a major liability as of late against Ward in their third fight, and again in his last against Branco. Both times he hurt it going to the body and hitting hip bone. He may not hit hip as easily on the short Dorin, but he will be hitting other bones - elbows, cheek, chin and skull. The kind of pace he's going to need to keep to keep Dorin off him could lead to another break, which would spell doom against a pressure fighter like the determined Romanian.
The one factor that everyone, and I mean everyone: Gatti, Dorin, McGirt, Larouche, both cut men, HBO and all the fans, should worry about, is cuts. Both men have a history of serious slicing of the face. Gatti is prone to big gashes above the eye, and heavy swelling below it. It's hard to tell what Dorin's prone to, since against Balbi the first time and against Spadafora, it was hard to tell where he was cut because he was wearing a blood mask by the end of both bouts.
Cuts could make things dramatic - causing desperation to boost up what will surely be a high-energy fight even higher - but could also bring a premature end to a highly anticipated 'anything can happen' bout as well.
At least we can take solace that as long as the fight lasts, it seems unfathomable that we won't get every minutes full worth of action while the clock is running.
July 24, 2004