While explaining how he managed to slip away from Micky Ward's hardest shots during their rematch Saturday night, Arturo Gatti got a little confused.
"I concentrated on moving to my left, no wait, my right -- no, it was my left, his right," Gatti said. "You'll have to excuse me, I just fought."
That was as disoriented as Gatti (35-6) got all night in his unanimous decision victory in the junior welterweight bout at sold-out Boardwalk Hall. The fight, a rematch of May's much-revered original -- a majority decision won by Ward -- lived up to expectations, with both fighters absorbing damage that would have knocked out many others over 10 rounds.
"No excuses at all," said Ward (38-12), who trailed on all three judges' cards: 98-91, 98-91 and 98-90. "The better man won tonight."
That Gatti had both eyes open, though his left was swollen slightly, at the post-fight news conference was as sure an indication as any of his transformation into a boxer-puncher. The first fight, he slugged with Ward, playing to Ward's strengths as a brawler.
This time, the difference in skill was marked, and Gatti's third-round knockdown of Ward proved the difference. Though Gatti was unable to finish off Ward then -- indeed, Ward rallied to stun Gatti moments later -- the damage of that overhand right to the side of Ward's head affected him for the remainder.
"All I know is that it was one of the greatest right hands I've ever thrown," Gatti said.
Gatti avoided Ward's signature left hooks, ducking under the body blows, rising to land right uppercuts to the body, and rotating away from the head shots.
"I have to thank Buddy McGirt," said Gatti, referring to the former champion who has served as his trainer for the past year. "It was very important for me to listen to him, and I did every round. . . . I've got to thank God I stayed focused because I'm a loose cannon sometimes. I just want to get into a brawl."
Ward and Gatti agreed a third fight is a possibility, "although I can't believe I'm saying that," Gatti said.
But Gatti also has his eyes on Kostya Tszyu, the undisputed 140-pound champion. Tszyu fights Jesse James Leija on Jan. 18 in Melbourne, Australia.
"I'm going to become the world champion again," said Gatti, who held the IBF junior lightweight title for 21 months in the mid-1990s. "That's important to me, and after tonight, I believe I can."
Takoma Park's Sharmba Mitchell, who was in attendance Saturday night, has been lobbying for another shot at Tszyu in recent weeks. Mitchell fought Tszyu to a standstill in November 2001 before a left knee injury forced him to stop before the eighth round.
The result "keeps our division interesting," said Mitchell, who beat Vince Phillips in a unanimous decision on Nov. 9. "The only moneymakers in our group are myself, Tszyu, Ward, Gatti and Zab Judah. I would love to take on any of them."