Micky Ward is a hard puncher not known for his technique, and Arturo Gatti built his reputation on his ability to absorb punishment. They're both regarded as warriors, and when they were put together for a May slugfest they delivered 10 brutal rounds that were instantly and universally viewed as the fight of the year.
"People are going to expect that, of course," said Ward, who won the first fight in a very close decision. "I don't want to put any pressure on myself to do that again."
The 140-pound fight was like a relic from a bygone era. Ward, a red-haired Irishman from outside Boston, and Gatti, a Canadian native of Italian descent who lives in Jersey City, N.J., traded flurries from the first round to the final bell. There was no title at stake that night in Connecticut, and there won't be tonight in Atlantic City.
The expectations, however, remain high. But if Gatti (34-6, 28 knockouts) trades punches less, as he and his trainer have intimated, they could prove anticlimactic for tonight's 10-rounder.
"We proved to the world we are warriors, we come to fight and we give the people what they want to see," Gatti said. "The hype is unbelievable. I know everybody expects the same thing."
The fact that Ward (38-11, 27 KOs) won seems forgotten. Ward's knockdown of Gatti in the ninth round and hard flurry later in that same round led judge Richard Flaherty to score the round, 10-7. Had the round been scored 10-8, the fight would have been what many remember the fight to be -- a draw.
"I wanted a rematch in the ring," Gatti said. "The decision was wrong, but the fight was so great. If I had won, I would have given Micky a rematch in the ring. The fight was just too great for that not to happen."
Gatti, 30, said he intends to box more this time around and shy away from trading blows with Ward. In particular, Gatti hopes to slip Ward's lethal left hook, which dropped Gatti in the decisive ninth round and gave Ward a close majority decision.
"Some body punches you just can't get away from," said Buddy McGirt, the former champion who has reformed Gatti from a pure puncher over the past year. "He's going to avoid that one, trust me."
Ward, 37, spent three years away from boxing and often worked construction to support his career earlier on. He admits he is unlikely to change stylistically.
If any dynamic will differ from May until now, it will be that McGirt had his way. Namely, McGirt wants Gatti to look as impressive as he had in a fourth-round knockout of Terron Millet on Jan. 4 and during the first three rounds against Ward, showing the tactical skill rather than the relentlessness Gatti has been known for most of his career.
Both Gatti and Ward acknowledged the enormous payday, reported to be $1.25 million apiece, warrants the physical damage they will endure.
"It's good, at this stage in my career, that I can finally make that," Ward said.
Said Gatti: "It's the heart of the game. I hear about it every day from my future wife, my family. Hopefully I'll get out of the game before anything bad happens."
Boxing Note: The undercard is beginning to take shape for District 140-pounder DeMarcus Corley's Jan. 4 defense of his WBO title against Randall Bailey at D.C. Armory. Felix Machado (23-3-1) defends his IBF junior bantamweight title against Luis Alberto Perez (20-1) in the co-main event.