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Former foes Gatti, Ward to share a corner

AROUND THE RING
Gatti, Ward back in ring together

Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward, two of boxing's most revered blood-and-guts warriors, will share a ring together again. This time, however, they will be on the same side.

During a 13-month stretch from May 2002 to June 2003, Gatti and Ward waged an unforgettable trilogy. Ward won their first all-time classic on a 10-round majority decision. Gatti won the next two fights by unanimous decision. The first and third installments of the series won fight of the year honors in 2002 and 2003, respectively.

After their third bout, Ward retired. But he and Gatti had bonded during their rivalry, and they became close friends. Ward visited Gatti at training camp. They played golf together. And Ward was a regular at Gatti's fights, even walking him to the ring.

Ward will again walk him to the ring when Gatti (40-8, 31 KOs) returns to fight Alfonso Gomez (16-3-2, 7 KOs) on July 14 (HBO) at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J., site of Gatti-Ward II and III.

This time, however, Ward will lead Gatti into battle as his head trainer, an unexpected turn of events that has Ward tickled.

"It's like the real-life 'Rocky,'" Ward told ESPN.com, referring to famed movie character Apollo Creed becoming Rocky Balboa's trainer in "Rocky III" after their famous movie battles in the first and second films.

Gatti split with longtime trainer Buddy McGirt following his loss to then-welterweight champion Carlos Baldomir last summer and there was talk that Gatti would train with Pernell Whitaker.

Whitaker, the retired former pound-for-pound king, had begun training fighters in Virginia and has remained close to Kathy Duva of Main Events, which also promotes Gatti.

But Gatti, who has trained in Florida, was not sold on the idea of moving his base to Virginia to work with Whitaker.

Ward, meanwhile, had been in his hometown of Lowell, Mass., working with some young pros and amateurs.

A mutual friend of Ward and Gatti had asked Ward if he thought he'd like to someday train Gatti. Ward, of course, said he would love it.

That friend, who is also tight with Pat Lynch, Gatti's manager, mentioned the conversation to Lynch a couple of days later.

Then last week, when Gatti was in Lynch's office, the subject of Ward training fighters came up.

"Arturo said to me, 'How great would it be if Micky trained me for my next fight? How motivated would I be to have him running with me in the morning? I know how to fight, I just need some instructions here and there,'" Lynch told ESPN.com, recounting his conversation with Gatti.

A few minutes later, Lynch called Ward.

"I said, 'Hold on, Mick, I've got someone here who wants to talk to you,'" Lynch said.

Ward recounted the rest of the conversation.

"Arturo picked up and said, 'Hey Mick, what's going on? How would you like to be my new head coach,'" Ward, 41, said. "I said, 'Sure.'"

And like that, the two rivals-turned-buddies had joined forces as fighter and trainer.

"I think it will be great," Ward said. "At his age, there's not much I can teach him. But I can get him in great shape and get a great game plan and dissect the guy he's going to fight."

Ward has stayed in top condition since retiring by running marathons. The morning jog is right up Ward's alley, even in retirement.

Ward and Gatti will open training camp for the July fight next week in Pompano Beach, Fla.

"I truly believe Micky is so into this that he is going to really be great for Arturo," Lynch said. "He's looking to make training a second career for himself and this is perfect for him."

Said Ward, "I've been around boxing my whole life. This is a good opportunity for me. I love it. I think it's a good mix, me and Arturo. I don't know about his situation with Buddy, so I don't get into it. Buddy is one of the best, but I will give to my fighters like I did when I fought, give them 110 percent. I'm gonna push him, I will tell you that."

That means no more nights like the one Feb. 17 at an Irish pub in Manhattan, where Gatti and Ward partied with the fight crowd after attending a boxing card at the Hammerstein Ballroom down the block.

"We love to drink together, but I have never, ever done that in training camp," Ward said. "Now it's all business. Now things are serious."

They can toast beers after the fight.

Vargas-Mayorga in limbo

For months, there has been talk about a fight between Fernando Vargas and Ricardo Mayorga, two all-action former champions past their primes, but it hasn't happened because of lukewarm interest from HBO, either as a live network fight or a pay-per-view. Still, Vargas co-manager Shelly Finkel believes it will happen before the year is over.

"Hopefully, it will happen on HBO this fall," he told ESPN.com.

Finkel said the sides -- Main Events for Vargas and Don King for Mayorga -- have agreed to a 50-50 split on the revenues.

"I just spoke to Don about it [Wednesday]," Finkel said. "We believe it will happen and we believe it would be a very big rating on HBO, whether they think the fighters are past their primes or not. Win or lose, it will be Fernando's last fight. He wants it and so does Mayorga."

Vargas, a former two-time junior middleweight champion, and Mayorga, the former welterweight champion and a former junior middleweight titlist, would meet at 162 pounds, Finkel said. Vargas is coming off back-to-back stoppage losses to Shane Mosley in 2006. Mayorga lost his 154-pound belt via seventh-round knockout to Oscar De La Hoya last May.

Exactly when Vargas-Mayorga will happen remains unclear.

"Early fall, we hope," Finkel said. "It depends on HBO. I would prefer it to be live on HBO, but if we have to go on pay-per-view, I believe it would certainly do enough business that it would make money. It would draw at least 150,000 buys."

Maskaev-Peter saga drags on

Just when it looked like Oleg Maskaev's mandatory heavyweight title defense against Samuel Peter was finally going to be scheduled following an April 20 purse bid, the fight was again delayed when WBC president Jose Sulaiman inexplicably postponed the bid until May 4. Sulaiman gave no reason for the postponement.

The sides were set to bid in Mexico City, and Maskaev promoter Dennis Rappaport and Peter manager Ivaylo Gotzev had already boarded planes for Mexico when the date was changed via e-mail. They arrived in Mexico, found there was no bid and had to turn around and go home.

Rappaport was already irritated because he had failed a few days earlier to win a temporary restraining order preventing the bid from taking place because he was unhappy that the WBC approved a 55-45 purse split. Typically, the champion is entitled to 70 percent under a purse bid, although the WBC can alter it, which it did in this case.

Ultimately, the purse bid was rescheduled for May 4 at a Manhattan hotel.

"It's just so bizarre, this whole thing," Peter promoter Dino Duva told ESPN.com. Duva wanted the fight to take place as soon as possible following Peter's lopsided victory against James Toney in their January elimination bout.

Now that the bout has been pushed into the summer, there are fewer attractive TV dates or venues. Showtime is interested in buying the fight for July 7, but is not thrilled with the delay in the purse bid. Neither promoter is very happy either because there are so few television options on such short notice -- HBO's July schedule is already locked in. They also need to find a venue.

The fight had already been delayed by a few months while Maskaev chased a fight with Vitali Klitschko only to have it blow up and be forced to make the defense against Peter.

• Junior featherweight champ Rafael Marquez's rematch with Israel Vazquez is tentatively scheduled for Aug. 4 on Showtime. Marquez, the former bantamweight champ, moved up to 122 pounds and stopped Vazquez to win the title March 3. Vazquez, who suffered a broken nose in the first round, had trouble breathing and finally retired on his stool after the seventh round of the all-action fight. Vazquez had a rematch clause in his contract and is anxious for a shot to regain the title. Manager Frank Espinoza said Vazquez's nose injury was not as bad as doctors originally thought and that he will be ready in August. "It's not a problem," Espinoza told ESPN.com. "He can go ahead and take the fight. Now he can breathe. We want the fight real bad and the doctor gave the green light to go ahead. The doctor said it wouldn't be a problem to accept the fight for Aug. 4."

• Although the boxing world's eyes will be focused on Las Vegas for the May 5 Oscar De La Hoya-Floyd Mayweather Jr. showdown, there is also an interesting heavyweight bill at the Palms Casino Resort, which is hosting a "ShoBox" card on May 4 (Showtime, 11 p.m. ET/PT). Rising contender Eddie Chambers (28-0, 16 KOs) faces gatekeeper Dominick Guinn (28-4-1, 19 KOs) in a 10-rounder that should show whether Chambers, 25, is going to be a serious contender. "Guinn can still be a force in this division, so I will have my work cut out,'' Chambers said. "This will be one of my tougher fights, but I need to take these kinds of steps.'' The eight-round opener pits exciting Chris Arreola (19-0, 17 KOs) against Devin Vargas (11-0, 5 KOs), the 2004 U.S. Olympic team captain. Former heavyweight titlist Chris Byrd will serve as a special guest analyst and join regular broadcasters Nick Charles and Steve Farhood at ringside.

• After a thumb injury slowed his progress last year, Andre Ward, the only 2004 U.S. Olympic boxing gold medalist, is looking to get a lot busier this year. With one victory already in the books in March, Ward (11-0, 6 KOs) is scheduled to fight an eight-rounder against an opponent to be named on May 17 at the Tachi Palace Hotel and Casino in Lemoore, Calif. Then Ward, who moved up to super middleweight in his last fight, will fight his first scheduled 10-rounder July 14 on the undercard of the Antonio Margarito-Paul Williams welterweight title bout, promoter Dan Goossen told ESPN.com. HBO, which is televising the main event, probably would show highlights of Ward's bout.

• Former heavyweight champ Evander Holyfield, 3-0 on the comeback trail and looking for another title shot, still plans to fight June 30 against an opponent to be named -- Lou Savarese is his most likely foe -- but the bout won't take place in Calgary, as originally was in the works. According to promoter Main Events, the Canadian investors interested in bringing Holyfield (41-8-2, 27 KOs) there had a change of heart and the deal didn't work out. Main Events is working on other possible sites.

• Junior bantamweight contender Jose Navarro (25-2, 11 KOs), a two-time title challenger, has been mentioned often as a possible opponent for several top fighters. There was talk he might fight Jorge Arce this summer. Same goes for flyweight titlist Vic Darchinyan. Now, the typically quiet Navarro is tired of waiting for a meaningful fight and is going on the offensive. "I want a shot at [junior bantamweight titlist] Cristian Mijares and a chance to further expose Arce in the ring," Navarro said. "But talk is cheap, so I will prove that I am the best in the middle of the ring. I respect them, but know that I will beat them." Navarro lost both of his 115-pound title shots in Japan, but a 2003 decision loss to then-titlist Katsushige Kawashima was almost universally hailed as a robbery. The 2000 U.S. Olympian returns against an opponent to be named on the May 19 Jermain Taylor-Cory Spinks undercard.

• Can't get enough of the hype leading to the Oscar De La Hoya-Floyd Mayweather Jr. HBO PPV showdown on May 5? To whet your appetite, HBO is going to the vaults and will replay four classic fights from their careers: Mayweather vs. Zab Judah and De La Hoya vs. Ricardo Mayorga on April 27 (11 p.m. ET/PT on the HBO2 service) and Mayweather vs. Diego Corrales and De La Hoya vs. Fernando Vargas on May 4 (11:30 p.m. ET/PT on HBO2).

• Demand for tickets to Miguel Cotto's welterweight title defense against Zab Judah -- the card has been dubbed "X-Plosive" -- on June 9 (HBO PPV) at Madison Square Garden has been strong. So strong, in fact, that it is the Garden's fastest sales start since the first Lennox Lewis-Evander Holyfield heavyweight championship fight in 1999. "Miguel Cotto has developed a tremendous following in New York, and Brooklyn's Zab Judah will have thousands of supporters," MSG vice president Joel Fisher said. "This should be a memorable night of boxing at the Garden."

• Junior flyweight Edgar Sosa of Mexico, who won a vacant junior flyweight title April 14 with an exciting victory against Brian Viloria, must make a mandatory defense next against Luis Lazarte of Argentina. If the sides can't come to an agreement, there will be a purse bid May 27.

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QUOTABLE

"The 'Magic Man' is back. On June 9, I am going to make Muriqi disappear."
-- former light heavyweight champ Antonio Tarver, on Elvir Muriqi, against whom he makes his Showtime debut in his first fight since losing the title to Bernard Hopkins last summer.