Originally created 01/23/04

Italian fights Gatti for WBC title in his U.S. debut



ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- When it came time to bone up on opponent Arturo Gatti, Gianluca Branco's trainers were selective in choosing their videotapes.

They didn't show him Gatti's hard-fought trilogy against Micky Ward, which showcased the scrappy former IBF lightweight champion at his best.

Instead, Branco prepared for Saturday's 12-round title fight by studying Gatti's style in losses to Oscar De La Hoya, Ivan Robinson and Angel Manfredy.

"I wanted to see the way to beat him," Branco said Thursday.

Whether the unbeaten 33-year-old fighter picked up any tips might determine who comes out on top in their WBC junior welterweight championship bout.

Branco, of Civitavecchia, Italy, is the WBC's top-ranked challenger at 140 pounds.

But he might have his hands full in his U.S. debut, between the unfamiliar surroundings, Gatti's hell-for-leather style and the roar of some 12,000 home-state partisans.

"If I didn't think that I could beat him, I wouldn't come here," said Branco, who is 32-0-1. "I have a chance."

So do gamblers in the Boardwalk casinos. But that doesn't make slot machines a good bet.

Gatti, 31, of Jersey City, is coming off three of the most impressive fights of his career - all against Ward.

He lost the first, but recovered with victories in the last two, including a unanimous decision last June before a sellout crowd of 12,643 - the biggest crowd ever to see a non-heavyweight title fight in Atlantic City.

Trainer Buddy McGirt insists Gatti isn't taking anything for granted.

"He tries to do a little bit of everything, so we're prepared for that," McGirt said of Branco. "He tries to make certain moves to set a guy up. But for every move he makes, we've got two moves for him."

Gatti (36-6), meanwhile, guaranteed a victory, saying whatever Branco brings, he can handle it.

"After 30 rounds with Micky Ward, how hard can it be?" Gatti asked.

Gatti, who broke his right hand in the last Ward fight, had it surgically repaired shortly afterward. He said he is in prime fighting condition after a 13-week camp in Vero Beach, Fla.

Ward, who has retired, will walk Gatti into the ring Saturday night at Boardwalk Hall.

Branco, who hasn't fought in 14 months, will have a champion in his corner - big brother Silvio Branco, 37, the WBA light heavyweight champion.

"I'm not worried about Arturo Gatti's legend," Gianluca Branco said. "We'll see what happens in the ring."

In the co-feature, junior welterweights Emmanuel Clottey and Francisco Bojado will fight a 10-rounder, televised beginning at 10 p.m. EST by HBO, to be followed by Gatti-Branco.

Also on the undercard: McGirt's son, James McGirt, Jr., 21, a 6-foot-2-inch middleweight making his pro debut in a four-rounder against James North of Weston, W.Va.

The elder McGirt, a former WBC welterweight champion, said he tried to steer his son clear of boxing.

"Usually, ex-fighters want their kids to be fighters, but I didn't. I did everything in my power to mislead him from it," McGirt said. "It's a tough business. But his determination to fight overcame my resistance to keep him from fighting."