'03 Title Fights
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Saturday, January 24
Updated: January 25, 3:07 AM ET
Branco handed first loss in 12-round decision

Associated Press

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- He had Micky Ward in his corner, a broken hand in his right glove and a home-state crowd cheering his every move. For Arturo Gatti, all was right with the world.

Gatti, coming off a memorable three-fight series with Ward that earned both a spot in boxing lore, captured the WBC junior welterweight title Saturday with a unanimous 12-round decision over Italian champion Gianluca Branco.

Ward, who has since retired, walked Gatti into the ring where they fought two of their epic slugfests, eliciting huge cheers from the crowd of 11,237 in Boardwalk Hall.

But it wasn't long before the fans realized that this would be no Gatti-Ward style brawl.

The unbeaten Branco, an effective counterpuncher, thwarted Gatti (37-6) through the first few rounds, hitting back before Gatti could complete his combinations.

Branco (32-1-1) threw fewer punches, but he connected with more of them.

"Branco was very awkward," said Gatti trainer Buddy McGirt. "I told him to relax and let it come naturally."

It did, but not without some adversity. In the fifth, he threw a right that landed on Branco's hip, and he winced in pain. Gatti said afterward he thought it was broken.

From then on, Gatti relied almost exclusively on his jab, using the right sparingly and wincing when he did. The fight was close to even until the 10th, when -- during an exchange of punches by both men -- Gatti rose up from a crouch and landed a roundhouse left that knocked Branco on his backside.

It was the turning point.

"I felt sluggish. I don't know why, I was in shape," said Gatti. "I won the bout with my heart and my boxing skills."

While he couldn't finish Branco off -- he said later it was because of his right hand -- the knockdown energized Gatti.

In the 11th, Branco looked tentative and less aggressive, and Gatti easily won the last two rounds.

In doing so, the former IBF junior lightweight champion earned the second title of his career. Judges Guido Cavallieri had it 115-112 and Tom Kaczmarek and Anek Hongtongkan 116-111.

"After I went down in the 10th, I felt I couldn't win the fight," said Branco. "Gatti has a lot of speed, and he's a great fighter."

Gatti was taken to a hospital to have the hand checked out. It was the same one he broke in his last fight against Ward, and it happened the same way -- on a right that hit his opponent's hip.

"Look, 30 rounds against Ward took a lot out of me, but I came back and I won the title," Gatti said afterward.

In the co-feature, Francisco Bojado beat Emmanuel Clottey in a 10-round junior welterweight fight. Bojado, of East Los Angeles, Calif., boosted his record to 15-1.

Clottey, of Doraville, Ga., is 21-5.

Also on the undercard, James McGirt, Jr., made his pro debut with a unanimous four-round decision over James North. McGirt, 21, is the son of trainer Buddy McGirt. North, of Weston, W.Va., is 1-1.

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