For months leading up to Saturday night's 140-pound title fight against Arturo Gatti, Floyd Mayweather Jr. seemed as cocky as his nickname -- "Pretty Boy" -- suggests he is.
He said he had no reason to worry. He said he was a different class of fighter. He said he'd win easily.
He was right.
In front of a sellout crowd at Boardwalk Hall, Mayweather backed up his bold statements with a virtuoso performance that was the boxing equivalent of a no-hitter.
The slick and confident 28-year-old thoroughly dominated Gatti on Gatti's home turf, masterfully dodging punches and easily landing his own at will. The end came when Gatti could not answer the bell for the seventh round, but the result was obvious by midway through the second. Only Gatti's legendary courage -- and Mayweather's decision to taunt and toy with the champion before officially taking his belt -- kept it from ending earlier.
"Gatti was tough, strong and came to fight," Mayweather said. "I respect him for giving me the chance to win the title. I boxed, and I stepped it up. He's a great champion, I'm a great champion. Everything I said about him before the fight was just to hype the fight."
But the point of what Mayweather said -- that the fighters were in different classes -- was obvious. Mayweather landed 168 of his 295 punches (57 percent), while Gatti landed just 41 of 245 (17 percent).
"Too much speed," Gatti said. "Things weren't coming out right. . . . He's harder to hit than I thought."
With his 23rd knockout, Mayweather improved to 34-0, including 14-0 in world championship fights, captured Gatti's World Boxing Council title and provided even more evidence for his claim that he is boxing's best, pound-for-pound.
Round 1 was uneventful -- save for demonstrating Mayweather's significant speed advantage -- until Mayweather scored a controversial flash knockdown with a left hook. The boxers had been in a clinch, but as they broke, Mayweather slid in two shots. Upset, Gatti looked to the referee, and as he did, Mayweather landed the left that put Gatti to the canvas.
Gatti stared down Mayweather at the end of the round, but his anger did not help him in Round 2, as Mayweather put on a clinic. He landed left jabs, hooks and combinations from all angles, while skillfully dancing around the ring and staying away from Gatti's power. On his stool after the second, Gatti was furious with himself, but there was nothing he could do.
The next three rounds were more of the same, with Mayweather sliding, weaving and making Gatti's punches appear as if they were being thrown in slow motion. At one point in the fourth, Mayweather retreated to a corner as the crowd roared. But he was just playing possum, avoiding two Gatti shots before exploding with two jabs that landed flush. It was like that all night.
Mayweather did some of his worst damage in the sixth, mixing combinations to the body and head of Gatti, and -- when in a clinch -- sticking his tongue out at Gatti's corner. At the bell, Gatti (39-7) wobbled to the corner, bruised, bloody and beaten.
Mayweather, a former champion at 130 and 135 pounds, likely will go after one of the other three 140-pound belt holders -- all of whom were at Boardwalk Hall Saturday night. In the co-featured event, Carlos Maussa took the World Boxing Association title from Vivian Harris with a knockout at 43 seconds of Round 7.
Harris (25-2-1), who was trying to impress the other champions -- International Boxing Federation 140-pound champion Ricky Hatton (39-0), fresh off a stunning upset of Kostya Tszyu, and World Boxing Organization 140-pound champion Miguel Angel Cotto (24-0) were at ringside -- instead looked sluggish from Round 4 on. Late in the seventh, Maussa (19-2, 17 KOs) unleashed a savage left hook that landed flush and finished the fight.
The star-studded crowd seemed to consist almost entirely of Gatti's passionate legion of fans. Gatti calls Jersey City home, and Boardwalk Hall provided the only advantage he had.
But Mayweather was not at all bothered by the boos that accompanied his arrival, the thunderous roar that greeted Gatti or the chants of the 33-year-old's name that started during the undercard. Mayweather made his way to the ring on what amounted to a parade float, grinning as the crowd hissed and showered him with verbal daggers.
Gatti had not lost since the first of his three epic battles with Micky Ward, in May of 2002. The second and third installments of that trilogy, both Gatti victories, revived his career and helped make him a cult hero in the sport due to the savage nature of the fights. And many thought Gatti's only chance against Mayweather was to turn the bout into a slugfest similar to the ones he waged with Ward. He never came close.