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Mayweather, Gatti clash over contracts, legitimacy

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Floyd Mayweather is mad and he intends to take out every bit of his anger on Arturo Gatti when he challenges for Gatti's junior welterweight title Saturday night at sold-out Boardwalk Hall (HBO PPV, 9 ET).

The lengthy buildup to one of the year's biggest fights has been infused with a hefty dose of rancor, much of it stemming from Mayweather, who has belittled Gatti at every opportunity.

"I'm gonna step on him. I'm gonna crush him. You can mark my words, I'm gonna crush him. He's a C-plus fighter. I'm an A-plus fighter. I'm gonna dominate," Mayweather said in just one of his many diatribes against Gatti.

Said Gatti in response, "I'm gonna take him somewhere he's never been. He thinks I'm a joke. I just want to punish him. I really want to hurt him.

"I would like to make this fight 12 rounds and beat the living [stuff] out of him. He deserves a good spanking. He's a little boy."

There's so much bad blood between Gatti and Mayweather, they have been kept apart the entire promotion, from the kickoff press conference, to appearances this week, to the final press conference. They even weighed in separately on Friday, Gatti scaling 140 pounds and Mayweather weighing 139.

One of the biggest reasons for Mayweather's nasty disposition is his turbulent personal life has been splashed front and center throughout the promotion, and he doesn't appreciate it.

While Mayweather (33-0, 22 KOs) was dealing with a court case against him in which he was accused of kicking a man during a bar fight in his hometown of Grand Rapids, Mich., Gatti (39-6, 30 KOs) pressured him to get the case behind in order to close their deal. To save the fight, Mayweather pleaded no contest to the charges.

Being forced into that position infuriated Mayweather. But had he proceeded to trial, he probably would have lost out on the biggest fight of his career and the accompanying $2.5 million minimum payday (Gatti will earn at least $3.5 million).

When Mayweather took his time signing after the plea, Gatti pressed the issue by pulling the fight for a few days in March until things were worked out a week later, further irritating Mayweather.

"Do I care about Arturo Gatti? No. And do I respect him as a fighter? No," Mayweather said. "I'm upset, mad as hell, because I pleaded a no contest to something I know I didn't do. I know I didn't do it. The guy knows I didn't do it, but it's all got to do with money."

Mayweather is also upset that his rap sheet – which also includes multiple accusations of domestic abuse – was highlighted in HBO's preview show promoting the fight, while Gatti's own substantial legal entanglements, including several DUI arrests, were glossed over.

"This guy is a hypocrite. Nobody speaks on his alcohol-related incidents, but they want to speak on personal things that go on in my life," Mayweather said.

"Only thing I ever tried to do was be the best in the sport of boxing. If they look at me like the bad guy, so be it. It's Thunder vs. Lightning. We all know Thunder makes noise, but lightning strikes. And I'm gonna strike."

Mayweather also takes issue with Gatti's recent resume and said he would expose him as a glorified club fighter. Although Gatti has made for many of the most exciting fights in the sport in recent years, Mayweather said that doesn't make him a great fighter.

"I'm going to expose him because this guy is getting free money," Mayweather said. "He's fighting nobodies. He's fighting bums. This guy is a straight bum. This guy is overrated."

To illustrate Mayweather's point, HBO approved James Leija, a former title holder well past his prime, to face Gatti in January. The network refused to approve him as a Mayweather opponent because it was deemed too much of a mismatch.

"Leija was (38) years old. That's what you are supposed to do to a (38)-year-old," Mayweather said of Gatti's fifth-round knockout. "When I tried to get a fight with Leija, they said don't do that. No one would tune in for that. They wouldn't let me fight him."

Mayweather is attempting to win his third world title in his third weight class. He was a dominant junior lightweight champion, making eight defenses before moving up and winning the lightweight title in 2002. He defended it three times and then moved up again to junior welterweight last year.

But although a win would give Mayweather another title, it is one he doesn't hold in high regard because he doesn't consider Gatti a real champion.

"I won a title by beating top competition and top fighters," said Mayweather, whose title victories came against reigning champion Genaro Hernandez at 130 pounds and Jose Luis Castillo at 135. Each was regarded as the No. 1 fighter in the division when Mayweather faced them.

"This guy [Gatti] was handed a title," Mayweather said. "He's a paper champion. Kostya Tszyu was the world champion and they stripped him of his title, and Arturo Gatti fought a guy (Gianluca Branco) who wasn't even known for the belt."

Indeed, Tszyu was the recognized champion when was stripped of his WBC version of the title. Tszyu refused to face little-known mandatory challenger Branco in order to fight a high-profile rematch with Sharmba Mitchell.

"Mayweather likes to hear himself talk," Gatti said. "To me he sounds like he is terrified of me and a reality check is coming on Saturday night."

Old friends: The rancor between Mayweather and Gatti has been heated but that's not the case with their trainers.

Buddy McGirt, who trains Gatti, and Roger Mayweather, Floyd's trainer and uncle, have known each other for years. The former world champions like and respect each other.

"Me and Roger go way back," McGirt said on a recent conference call with reporters to discuss the fight.

They spent much of the time on the call joking with each other and brushing aside the bad blood between their fighters.

"Me and Buddy, we know what boxing is all about," Roger Mayweather said. "With Floyd and Gatti, it's personal. They do what they do. We'll do what we do. My job is to talk for my race horse. His job is to talk up his horse. But there ain't nothing bad with us."

When they did discuss the fight, the talk was all in good fun.

"You did a tremendous job with Arturo. He'll be prepared for this (butt) whupping," Mayweather said to McGirt as they both laughed.

Cut man: Cut man Joe Souza is back in Gatti's corner after a one-fight absence.

Souza's magic has saved Gatti more than once, but he was forced to make a hard decision when Gatti faced Leija in January. Souza had been close to Leija since Leija was a child, so he opted to work with Leija for the fight instead of Gatti out of loyalty.

Gatti said he understood the decision. With no conflict this time, Souza will be back in Gatti's corner.

"He's been there for me when I needed him the most," Gatti said. "He's a loyal guy, and that's why I respect him."

Sparring experience: Gatti said he is ready for Mayweather's overwhelming speed advantage because of his experience as a young fighter sparring with onetime pound-for-pound king Pernell Whitaker.

"(Mayweather) is not the best I ever fought, not at all," Gatti said. "I used to spar Pernell Whitaker for 4-5 years, and I think he's way better and more intelligent than Mayweather.

"He was the reigning champion for a long time, pound-for-pound the best and he was using me for sparring, so I must have been doing something right."

Whitaker, who recently was released from jail, was promoted by Main Events, which also promotes Gatti, and is in Atlantic City to support Gatti.

The fight will mark a reunion of sorts between Whitaker and Julio Cesar Chavez, who met for Whitaker's welterweight title and pound-for-pound supremacy in 1993. Most felt Whitaker won easily, but the fight was ruled a draw and remains one of the most controversial decisions in history.

While Whitaker is here to support Gatti, Chavez also is expected to be here to root for his son, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., who is fighting on the undercard.

Contract status: The fight is Mayweather's last one on a long-term contract with Top Rank promoter Bob Arum. However, they are expected to continue working together beyond this fight.

Although the contract expires, Arum retains a rolling first-offer and last-look option that allows him to retain promotional rights as long as he matches any outside offer to Mayweather.

The pair have had a love-hate relationship since Mayweather signed with Top Rank following the 1996 Olympics. But they've been in the love stage during this promotion.

Arum said he thinks the Gatti fight, Mayweather's first as a pay-per-view headliner, can be his break-out fight.

"After this, it's only big fights for Floyd," Arum said. He mentioned a desire to make matches with undisputed welterweight champ Zab Judah, former champ Shane Mosley and Top Rank-promoted titlist Antonio Margarito. He also mentioned junior welterweight titlist Miguel Cotto, "but that fight is probably a year or two away."

Quick hits: Gatti rival Micky Ward, now a close friend, will help lead Gatti into the ring. … Ricky Hatton, who won the Ring magazine junior welterweight title from Tszyu June 4, is expected ringside Saturday night to scout a possible fight with the winner. … Gatti is 16-3 in Atlantic City, including going 5-0 in his last five consecutive fights. Mayweather is 3-0 here.

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.