By Thomas Hauser
Two careers ended in Atlantic City on June 7th. One began with high expectations but ended in bitter disappointment. The other once looked as though it wouldn't amount to much but closed with a blaze of glory.
There was a time when Michael Grant was regarded by many as the heir apparent to the heavyweight throne. A talented athlete with awesome physical gifts, he won his first thirty-one fights before being annihilated by Lennox Lewis. In his next outing, he suffered a broken ankle leading to a first-round stoppage against Jameel McCline. After the loss to McCline, Grant did what he could to rebuild his career. He worked hard in the gym. He took seven fights for small money. Every step was aimed at getting back on HBO in a fight he could win.
Enter Dominick Guinn. A veteran of 300 amateur matches, Guinn was 21-0 against soft opposition as a pro. It was a crossroads bout for both men, and Guinn prevailed.
Ten seconds into the fight, there was a clinch and Grant had an opportunity to assert himself. Given his strength and thirty-six-pound weight advantage, he should have manhandled his opponent, shaken him like a rag doll. Instead, he passively tied Guinn up, giving away the physical and psychological edge that his size and strength offered.
Thereafter, Grant looked painfully slow and ponderous. Guinn knocked him down in the third, fourth, and seventh rounds. After the fourth knockdown, referee Benji Estevez stopped the fight. As Guinn's trainer Ronnie Shields noted, "Michael is a nice guy, but we're talking about fighting."
Grant doesn't have the instincts or the personality for boxing. His chin, if he ever had one, is gone. He has no future in the sweet science, and there's no point in his fighting any longer. Still, it should be noted that, whenever Grant was knocked down in the ring (by Lewis and Guinn, four times each, and also by McCline and Andrew Golota) he got up, always.
Then came Part Three of the Gatti-Ward "Thrillogy".
Ward had fought for small purses throughout his career en route to a 38-12 record. His gross for the three Gatti fights exceeds $2,000,000. Micky is an honest fighter. And it's a mark of his honesty that, when he said this was going to be his last fight, people believed him.
Gatti is a better fighter now than he used to be. One of the great "what ifs" in boxing is, "What if Arturo hadn't undermined his early years with cocaine, booze, and all that womanizing?" But Gatti himself is philosophical with regard to the lifestyle of his younger days. "I'm not the only one," he said recently. "A lot of athletes feel that way after it's over."
There's something inside both Ward and Gatti that very few fighters have.
"It's great to end my career against a warrior like Arturo," Micky said at the final pre-fight press conference. "I like Arturo a lot. But if he hits me, I'm going to hit him back."
"There's no one tougher than Micky Ward," Gatti said in response. "I wasn't sure I wanted to fight him again. But I gave him my word, and here we are."
Boardwalk Hall was sold out. The feeling among those in attendance was that Gatti could win a boxing match or a slugfest, whereas Ward could win only the latter. The seven-year age difference between the two was seen as a big plus for Arturo. Minutes before the fight, Ward adviser Al Valenti likened his charge to another Boston hero. "It would be nice," said Valenti, "if Micky could go out like Ted Williams, hitting a home run in his last at bat in Fenway Park."
It wasn't to be.
Ward outboxed Gatti in round one; but Gatti turned the tables in rounds two and three and did some pretty good body work as well. Round four was one of those time-capsule rounds. Thirty seconds into the stanza, Arturo fired a hard right hand that landed on Micky's hip and recoiled in pain. His hand was broken, and both men knew it. The war was on.
In round five, a cut opened up over Ward's left eye. Then, just before the bell ending round six, Ward decked Gatti with a looping right hand to the top of the skull. Round seven was another time-capsule stanza and the most important round of the fight. Micky came out hard, and Arturo gave him the slugfest he wanted, hurting Ward in the process. At that point, those who cared about either man could have been forgiven for thinking that the brutality of their encounter was simply too much.
Gatti was the pursuer for most of the last three rounds. Each fighter showed such valor that an argument could have been made for tearing up the judges' scorecards and saying that no verdict would be rendered. But that wouldn't have been fair to Arturo.
The honest fighters got honest scoring; 96-93, 96-93, and 97-92 in Gatti's favor. Afterward, as was the case following their first encounter, they found themselves side-by-side in a hospital emergency room. But first, they spoke briefly about the fight.
Gatti's entire face was distorted. Both of his lips protruded grotesquely; his nose looked like rawbeef; and there was swelling around both eyes. Ward's face was scraped, bruised, and swollen, and he would need six stitches to close the gash above his left eye.
"This fight was harder than the first," Arturo acknowledged. "Micky stunned me. I went down because I was stunned."
"Who do you want to fight next?" he was asked.
"Not Micky Ward," Gatti answered.
Ward, for his part, was equally gracious. "It's not about who's tougher," he said. "We're both tough guys. It's about respect. I did the best I could, and Arturo did the best he could. I wanted to beat him more than anything in the world; but outside the ring, he's a beautiful guy."
Micky Ward never won a world championship belt. But he ends his career a true