Gatti continues to leave bloody past behind
He may have boxed more than brawled, but in the end, Arturo Gatti kept a packed house at Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall happy Saturday night with a fifth-round knockout of veteran "Jesse" James Leija to successfully defend his WBC super-lightweight title.
"They have no choice but to buy a ticket now because they don't know what they're gonna see," Gatti said.
With the win, Gatti, 32, removed most obstacles from a proposed showdown on June 11 with Floyd Mayweather Jr., though "Pretty Boy" Floyd's absence from Atlantic City to help hype Saturday's bout does bring up many questions about whether this fight will happen.
"I do want to fight Mayweather," Gatti said. "Hopefully, everything goes well with his legal matters, but I would love to fight him."
If the two do clash, Gatti's continued progression from face-first brawler to effective boxer-puncher makes this an interesting matchup, especially given his disciplined performance against former junior-lightweight world champion Leija.
"Jesse James Leija is a very crafty fighter, very experienced," Gatti said. "The way to beat him was to use my jab, and that's what I did."
And Gatti didn't just knock out Leija, he likely knocked him into retirement. The San Antonio Express-News reported in Sunday's editions the 38-year-old will hang up his gloves.
"The wear and tear on my body is too much," Leija told the Express-News. "My body is telling me that it's time to go."
Both worked the jab early, with Gatti's faster, and Leija's harder. In the second minute, a lead right uppercut landed cleanly for Gatti, but Leija walked through it. Leija went to the body in the final minute, looking to weaken Gatti, but despite the exchange of leather, the "human highlight film" kept his cool.
Gatti kept the jab working effectively in the second round, with Leija using a strong overhand right to close the distance on his taller foe. Gatti landed a hard right hand of his own a minute later, his best shot of the fight thus far, but was unable to follow up enough to put Leija in trouble.
The action heated up a bit in the third as Leija's right started to land more frequently and Gatti responded in kind, but for the most part, Gatti stayed in control with a stiff jab and effective boxing, not his trademark brawling.
Settling into a comfortable groove in the fourth, Gatti continued to box, while mixing in some more risky maneuvers that got the crowd back into the fight and kept Leija on his back foot. Leija did manage to land a couple of hard shots, but not enough for him to turn the tide.
Thirty seconds into the fifth round, Gatti pounced, sending Leija sprawling with a hard right hand that followed a series of jabs. Immediately jumping in for the kill, Gatti ate a left hook but kept coming, landing hard power shots on a buzzed Leija. Midway through the round, Gatti whipped in a quick left hook to the top of the head, sending Leija down a second time, where he took the count from referee Earl Brown at 1:48 of the round.
"Once I start landing the right hand, then the left hook followed up, and then the big bombs are coming," Gatti said.
Gatti improves to 39-6 with 30 KOs. Leija falls to 47-7-2 with 19 KOs.
In the co-feature, Kassim Ouma turned what most observers believed would be an evenly matched war into a clear-cut display of dominance as he easily decisioned Kofi Jantuah over 12 rounds to retain his IBF junior-middleweight title.
Scores were 118-110, 116-112, and 117-111 for Ouma, whose superior work rate and ring generalship proved to be too much for the heavy-handed Jantuah.
Jantuah was in Ouma's face at the opening bell, digging hooks to the body. Ouma quickly changed gears from his usual forward motion, moving backward while darting in with quick counters. Jantuah was undeterred and landed a solid left hook to the jaw, but the champion took it well. In the final minute the two went back to close quarters and exchanged power shots with neither man holding a decided edge.
In the second, the action picked up where it left off, with both fighters expending a lot of energy with high work rates at close quarters. A pattern emerged of Ouma trying to throw three-punch flurries for each bomb thrown by Jantuah, and with each fighter standing head-to-head with little respite, referee Randy Neumann thankfully let the two fighters battle it out without interruption.
Jantuah, now nursing a cut on his right eye, opened the third with a hard right to the head, but Ouma was unmoved. Ouma's straight shots started to be more effective as he consistently beat Jantuah to the punch. At the midway point of the round, a hard left jarred Jantuah briefly, and though he quickly recovered, the Ghanaian appeared to be a bit weary by the end of the round.
The pace picked up again in the fourth, with neither fighter taking a break from their constant regimen of hooks, crosses, and uppercuts on the inside. Late in the round, Jantuah landed a hard left hook, only to see Ouma bounce back even stronger as he finished the round with a furious attack of leather.
Ouma stayed inside in the fifth round, preventing Jantuah from getting full extension on his power shots, and even when Jantuah was able to land cleanly, the champion was unmoved. But Jantuah's aggression kept Ouma in check for much of the round, allowing Sir Kofi to get back into the fight on the scorecards.
Jantuah kept the pressure on in the sixth, but Ouma kept his cool under fire and scored the cleaner shots down the stretch as the challenger attempted to land a fight-ending bomb.
Switching up his plan of attack, Ouma came out firing in the seventh, appearing to stagger Jantuah briefly with a series of hard punches. Jantuah kept moving forward, but his level of activity dropped while he took an increasing number of clean shots to the head.
Darting in and out with ease, Ouma potshotted Jantuah in the eighth round and was now in complete control of the bout. With a minute left, Jantuah was weary, his right eye was swelling rapidly, and he was taking an increasing amount of punishment.
Ouma fought brilliantly in the ninth round, moving in and out of danger, leading and countering, and just epitomizing the idea of ring generalship as he put Jantuah's quest for victory further and further out of reach.
It was more of the same in the 10th and 11th rounds, with Ouma in complete control and Jantuah game, but outgunned.
Knowing that he was behind, Jantuah came out fast to start the final round, but by the second minute it was Jantuah in the corner and on the receiving end of Ouma's fists. Midway through the round Jantuah landed a hard right but Ouma easily shook it off and remained at close quarters with his foe until the final bell.
With the victory, Uganda's Ouma improved to 21-1-1 with 13 KOs. Jantuah fell to 28-2 with 18 KOs.
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