Mayweather-Gatti polar opposite pairing

From a marketing standpoint, the Floyd Mayweather-Arturo Gatti bout is a black-and-white issue – as in "villain" vs. "hero."

Originally Published: June 21, 2005
By Steve Kim |

When Arturo Gatti defends his WBC junior welterweight title against Floyd Mayweather Jr. Saturday night in Atlantic City, N.J., he will be cast as the hero to Mayweather's self-proclaimed "villain."

And this bout, which has been dubbed "Thunder and Lightning," just as easily could be called good versus evil.

"I don't think there's any question that they're trying to cast this as the black hat against the white hat, a good guy against a bad guy," said HBO analyst Larry Merchant, who will be ringside at Boardwalk Hall. "I think there's been an obvious decision on the part of the Mayweather people, 'Look, we can't market him anymore as Pretty Boy; let's market him as Ugly Boy Floyd.' And so he says all of these ugly things and maybe it's closer to the truth than the other lie about him being Pretty Boy. So maybe it works."

Gatti comes in as a sizable underdog, one who will have the support of much of the country against a brash, cocky opponent whom many would love to see get his comeuppance.

But to beat the slick stylist out of Grand Rapids, Mich., Gatti will have to fight the fight of his life against the best boxer he will ever face in his career.

Many are predicting a lopsided decision for Mayweather; some are even calling for a stoppage. Not too many pundits have gone on record predicting a Gatti victory. Yeah, there might be someone out there thinking with his heart, but it seems many more are thinking with their heads.

Perhaps just being competitive will be a moral victory for Gatti.

"I guess you could call it a moral victory, but it would also be a financial victory because in the past he's come back from defeats because he makes for exciting fights," Merchant said. "If this is an exciting fight that he loses, then Gatti is out there as a potential candidate to fight [Ricky] Hatton, to fight [Kostya] Tszyu, to fight [Miguel] Cotto. It would have to be a pretty bad defeat to defeat Arturo Gatti."

On the flip side, Mayweather can't just win – he needs to dominate. Squeaking out a split decision will be a loss in many respects, especially in light of the fact he has labeled his foe a "C-plus fighter."

"If Gatti is such a bum, then beating him doesn't mean much," Merchant said. "So how much credit does he want for beating a guy he's already called a bum? If he wins, he wins and it keeps him going, he's in the prime of his career. I don't know if all the conversation afterwards gets forgotten or not, but if it's a tougher, closer fight, then I think the expectations are so high that it probably cools off Mayweather just a bit."

For Mayweather, more than just the WBC title is at stake. While he always has felt he was far superior to Gatti as a boxer, there seems to be resentment at the things Gatti has that he never received.

To him, Gatti is the pampered HBO fighter who gets to face opponents – such as Jesse James Leija – who aren't approved for him by the network. And while it's Mayweather who has had to face the likes of Jose Luis Castillo when moving up to win a title instead of an unknown Gianluca Branco, it's still Gatti who garners the higher Nielsens.

During a national conference call last week, Mayweather complained about this fight's being on Gatti's home turf. But that is due in large part to the fact that Gatti is one of the game's few ticket sellers, a fighter who does boffo numbers at the box office. Mayweather, on the other hand, outside of a few selected fights in his hometown, has fought to empty arenas across the country. From Las Vegas to Fresno to Miami, Mayweather fights often look like Atlanta Hawks home games.

For him, this is about becoming the marquee attraction that Gatti is. Even in this bout, he is the B side of the equation.

"It's conceivable that one day [Mayweather] becomes an A side. I don't want to say what 'A' stands for, but everything is possible," Merchant said with a laugh.

"I mean, people are talking about Winky Wright now. With the hard falls that the elite fighters have taken – [Roy] Jones, Tszyu, [Oscar] De La Hoya – there's room at the top. And there's every reason to believe he can fill one of those rooms."

Mayweather is the fighter respected by the purists. Gatti is the one beloved by the general fans. Seriously, when was the last time a water cooler conversation took place over a Mayweather fight? But I'm pretty sure more than a few work hours were lost due to lingering dialog regarding Gatti's action-packed encounters. But being exciting doesn't necessarily mean you are a gifted prizefighter; it could mean that you have enough flaws to make every fight competitive – which Gatti often does. Look at any pound-for-pound list and most have Mayweather listed in the upper, upper echelon. Gatti, like a college football team missing the top 25, is lucky to be in the "also receiving votes" category.

Mayweather is not particularly loved by the fans – and let's face it, he's not particularly likable – but pundits and observers often talk about his standing in the game and his future place in the Boxing Hall Of Fame. Gatti, on the other hand, has been derided by some as a "glorified club fighter" despite his great contributions to the sport.

Main Events and Pat Lynch have been constants throughout Gatti's career as his promoter and manager, respectively. While many other relationships in boxing are oftentimes changed in tenor once a boxer becomes a star, this triumvirate has been a model of consistency throughout the years. On the flip side, Mayweather has gone through a succession of managers, from his own father – whom he kicked out of their home – to James Prince and a group of guys who made hair care products and lasted about 15 minutes with Mayweather. As for his relationship with his promoter, Bob Arum, well, if Gatti has had a smooth ride with Main Events, I guess the best way to describe Mayweather's with Top Rank would be bumpy and turbulent.

Even as he appeared with Arum on the conference call last week, Mayweather still spoke boldly of exploring other options once his deal with Arum runs out after this bout.

Mayweather's legal issues were a huge hurdle in making this bout come to fruition. But as he pointed out in his interview with HBO this past weekend, he isn't the only one of the two to have problems with the law. Gatti was no stranger to the law as he battled his own demons in the late '90s. But what bugs Mayweather the most is that Gatti seems to get a free pass for his youthful indiscretions while he, in many respects, is still haunted by them.

But perhaps it's because he ended up looking like the ultimate hypocrite after he taunted Diego Corrales about his legal difficulties before their bout in 2001. The American public is very forgiving – they're especially forgiving if a guy can entertain them and at least give off the vibe that he's a good guy at the core. Gatti does this. Hey, so what if the star running back got busted for DUI? If he rushes for 1,500 yards and is a likable guy, he will be forgiven. That's Gatti. Hey, we've all messed up, and besides, Gatti's a warrior and a swell fella.

When it comes to Mayweather, it's almost like he's Kobe Bryant. Despite his magnificent natural gifts, he is looked upon as an arrogant, petulant, moody prodigy with a false sense of entitlement. For many, it's hard to relate to a young man who once scoffed at a proposed multi-million dollar deal with HBO and called it a "slave contract."

There is a consensus as to who will win this bout: Mayweather. But there is just as strong a consensus in whom the public would like to see victorious: Gatti.

But that's the beauty of this event. We are drawn to it, not necessarily because of the fight itself, but because of two personalities that are polar opposites in nature, in and out of the ring.

It's a black-and-white issue.