Modesty and Floyd Mayweather Jr. do not belong in the same sentence, no more so than Arturo (Thunder) Gatti and Mayweather belonged in the same ring last Saturday night in Atlantic City. Many people (Mayweather included) believe he's the world's best pound-for-pound prizefighter. Many people (Mayweather included) find him a vain, boastful loudmouth. At last week's weigh-in for his title bout with the WBC super lightweight, the 28-year-old egomaniac said of the 33-year-old champ, "It's time that he faced the truth--and I'm the truth. I haven't ducked any opponents and have no weaknesses. A lot can match my speed. A lot can match my power. But no one can match me mentally."
Well, as Reggie Jackson once said, it ain't braggin' if you can back it up. And on Saturday the unbeaten Mayweather (34--0, with 23 knockouts) not only backed it up but also backed up Gatti. Stabbing sharp lefts, shimmying away and then boring in for ferocious flurries, he battered him helpless for six rounds. With Gatti's left eye closed to a slit, his corner stopped the match before the start of the seventh. Pretty Boy Floyd had made easy work of boxing's foremost crowd-pleaser--outpunching the puncher by more than four to one--to win his third world title in as many weight classes.
Mayweather makes boxing seem like a ballet of feet and fists in magical coordination. Those nimble extremities have kept the face of the Grand Rapids native unmarked. Still, his brilliance has hardly endeared him to fight fans, who prefer electrifying KO's to flashy D. Until he faced Gatti, Mayweather had never even fought in a pay-per-view event. "It's not cool to take shots to the head and bleed," he said last Thursday. "The less you get hit, the longer you last. I'm not in this sport to see how hard I can get hit or to see how many big punches I can take."
Gatti may be. Though he has become a more tactical fighter in recent years, his popularity is rooted in courageous comebacks and an ability to dispense and withstand punishment. "I'm ready to die in that ring," Gatti said before the bout. "That's the difference between me and Mayweather."
Mayweather didn't think that was the most telling difference between them. During a prefight luncheon he compared the heavy underdog to a heavy bag, dismissed him as little more than a club fighter and, mocking Gatti's struggle to make weight, piled food on a plate. "None of that stuff bothers me," Gatti said. "I'm from Jersey."
Twenty of his bouts have been in Atlantic City, including the last six--all sellouts, as Gatti has become a sort of municipal attraction, like the Boardwalk or the Miss America pageant. He entered a packed arena on Saturday to the crackle of fireworks, but he didn't last long.
Thinking he had been fouled late in the opening round, Gatti dropped his hands and looked over to referee Earl Morton. Mayweather stepped in and nailed Gatti on the chin with a left hook. Gatti slumped to the second rope and took a standing eight count. "The ref said protect yourself at all times," Gatti said later. "I guess I learned the hard way."
Gatti never regained his focus. For the rest of the fight Mayweather shot in punch after punch. By the end of Round 6 both of Gatti's eyes had puffed up like buttermilk biscuits. "It's great to have heart," said Mayweather, "but heart can get your ass tore up."
• To see a photo gallery of the Mayweather-Gatti bout go to SI.com/floyd
With his first pay-per-view outing now under his belt, Floyd Mayweather Jr. says he's only interested in PPV bouts. His short list for his next fight includes Zab Judah, Shane Mosley, Miguel Cotto and Ricky Hatton, who on June 4 upset IBF junior welterweight champ Kostya Tszyu in Manchester, England. Tszyu's first defense of the title came in 1995, when he defeated Roger Mayweather, Floyd's uncle and trainer.... On July 16 undisputed middleweight champ Bernard Hopkins (above) faces undefeated heir apparent Jermain Taylor in Las Vegas. The Executioner swears he will retire on his 41st birthday in January. His dream final opponent would be Roy Jones Jr., who beat him by unanimous decision in 1993 when they fought for the IBF title, but differences of opinion as to how that purse would be split will keep Hopkins-Jones II from happening. "Besides," says Philadelphia promoter Russell Peltz, "Bernard has his hands full with Jermain."
JOHN IACONO (TOP)
Gatti (far right) was on the defensive all night as Mayweather outpunched him four to one.