-- After he had defeated Micky Ward, who was already in an ambulance, but before he got in one of his own, Arturo Gatti met the press -- briefly. His face, bruised and red, said enough.

"I don't know," Gatti said Saturday night when asked who his next opponent could be, now that his revered three-fight series with Ward had been completed. "All I want to do is get to the hospital right now."

Lou DiBella, Ward's promoter, chimed in: "It's not going to be Micky."

Ward, 37, retired as planned after the fight, an honorable finish to an unlikely career. Gatti, 31, having won the final two of the three fights with Ward by unanimous decision, established himself as a drawing card, a high-wire act of a 140-pounder who could bring fans and television with him regardless of opponent.

Gatti (36-6) injured his hand in the third round and fought practically one-handed for the remainder. He lost two of the next three rounds on all three judges' scorecards and was knocked down in the sixth round. But Gatti rallied to close the fight with a near-shutout of the final four rounds.

"Once he got hurt, I knew it would take him a couple of rounds to find his range and get back into it," said Buddy McGirt, the trainer who revitalized Gatti's career over the past 18 months by smoothing his rough edges and keeping his brawling instincts in check. "If he doesn't hurt his hand, he knocks Micky out."

While that result was doubtful -- Ward (38-13) never was knocked out in his 50-fight career entering Saturday -- the judges' scorecards reflected Gatti's dominance: 96-93, 96-93 and 97-92. Ward had bruised both hands badly as well, but had no answer for Gatti's superior movement.

"You know what I say to Buddy? If Micky doesn't damage his hands, he knocks Arturo out," DiBella said. "Seriously, it could not have ended any better except for a win. Micky has nothing to be ashamed of. It was the perfect ending to Micky's career."

Ward's first fight with Gatti, a majority decision for Ward in May 2002, became the consensus pick for fight of the year due to its brutality. In their second bout, a unanimous decision to Gatti last November, Ward was disoriented for most of the fight after an early blow ruptured an eardrum.

Both camps felt Saturday's finale provided the appropriate ending, with the fighters embracing before the 10th and final round and sharing water during television interviews.

Later they met up again, in the emergency room, leaving at 2 a.m., their careers and cars heading in different directions.