An amazing remembrance by one of On The Grind's best writers.
by Greg Paterson | Sun. July 11, 2010
Arturo "Thunder" Gatti was unpredictable. His fights were wars, his life was colorful and his career had more ups and downs than a roller coaster. Still, he brought his heart and soul into every boxing ring he graced.
Since the days of John L. Sullivan and his aggressive take no prisoners style, boxing fans have preferred the slugger to the pure boxer. Boxers are appreciated while fighters are loved. Names like Jack Dempsey, Carmen Basilio and Mathew Saad Muhammad all carried the unofficial title of "boxing’s most exciting fighter," in days passed. During the late 1990’s and early 2000’s though, this mantle belonged to Arturo "Thunder" Gatti.
Gatti bursted onto the world class level with an upset points victory over IBF Super Featherweight Champion, Tracey Harris Patterson in July 1995. The young Gatti who had made his name as a hard puncher proved he had some boxing ability as well. As he out-jabbed the aging champion and utilized his youthful movement, Gatti's defensive flaws became evident - but a powerful offense and immeasurable amounts of courage out-weighed his shortcomings. HBO's live broadcast of the fight helped pave the way for Gatti to become an international super-star and cult figure. At the tender age of 23 with a world championship belt, an exciting style and a superb left hook, the world was truly Gatti’s oyster.
Gatti showcased what he was all about in his next fight and first title defense, a back and forth war with Dominican Wilson Rodriguez. The challenger surprised everyone by starting fast and closing the left eye of the young champion. The second round saw the champion dropped and battered. Maintaining his composure, Gatti fought back hard and started to get back into the fight with his hard-combinations and body work. The body work at times strayed low - earning Gatti a point deduction before he dropped Rodriguez with a pulverizing left-hook to the body in the fifth round. After weathering the early storm, Gatti finished the see-saw battle in dramatic fashion with a destructive left-hook to the head of the tough Dominican.
The boxing world had reason to celebrate as the legend of Gatti was born. The tough blood and guts warrior had arrived, and the spotlight was his.
Many wars followed such as the rematch with Patterson, and the superb slug-fest with Gabriel Ruelas, Ring Magazine's 1995 Fight of the Year. It was becoming clear, Gatti was not the next boxing superstar - but the next warrior-god of boxing. He began to rely less and less on his boxing skills and more and more on his power, tenacity and aggression. The world fell in love with his wicked power and iconic image! It became obvious that Gatti was never going to be a great champion, but he could provide thrills, drama and ratings. The fans loved him, the media loved him, and there weren’t many people in boxing who didn't like the irrepressible young man.
It all came crashing down when limited and unexpected underdog Angel Manfredy out-boxed Gatti, and stopped him due to cuts in eight rounds. Gatti was dropped in the third and his limitations as a fighter were exposed, yet he remained an exciting fighter who despite defeat still possessed a massive fan-base.
This new-found role as exciting brawler rather than champion, was firmly established in two back-to-back wars with Ivan Robinson in 1998. Their first fight was awarded Fight of the Year honors. Both fighters gave it their all flinging flurries of punches at one another with rapidity. Both men were hurt and the momentum of the bout swung in each man's favor many times. In the end Robinson proved a bit too much for Gatti, earning a close decisions victory each time. It seemed that Gatti had fizzled out as a serious threat in boxing, but he was still a viable to boxing fans. The man had never been in a dull fight, and with the power he possessed and penchant for punishment - he could thrill a crowd like no other. A step-up to 140lbs. came and after he stacked up a few wins, then Gatti was made a sacrificial lamb for Oscar de la Hoya. Gatti though would continue to make his name as the blood spattered warrior he was.
Mickey Ward was no ordinary journeyman. Ward was a tough pressure-fighter who troubled some contenders of the time with his own brand of grittiness, determination and a wicked left hook to the body. He was the equal of Gatti in heart. The two of them waged three unforgettable wars. The first is generally regarded as the best, but all three were great fights. The fights reignited the faltering flame of his career, and solidified Gatti's reputation as an undisputed blood and guts warrior.
Gatti - Ward I saw Gatti get off to a good start. His new trainer Buddy McGirt tried to get him to stick to his boxing skills, and generally tighten up his defense and technique. This approach worked well until Ward started to sucker Gatti into a brawl. Gatti, never one to turn down a fight, duly obliged Ward and they began to swap hard punches. Ward, a really devastating body puncher, licked his lips and traded back with a certain fierceness that is born only in great fights. The two traded back-and-forth, and this excitement culminated in a ninth round none will forget.
Both men continued the trading as the battle lines had been drawn. Ward was the first to do real damage as a brutal left-hook to the body dropped Gatti. He picked himself up off the canvas though and fought back. The combatants traded but were exhausted and exerting every morsel of energy they had left. The two exchanged punches back-and-forth until the bell rang. The tenth was similar, but both men were understandably spent. Ward escaped the bout with a narrow split-decision victory, and Gatti came away with his warrior image enhanced yet again.
It is understood Mickey Ward was never the best pure boxer. He was tough, rough, game and ready, but when faced with lateral movement and a nice jab he tended to struggle. This was not a fact lost on Buddy McGirt in Gatti - Ward II, who implored Gatti to stick to his boxing this time around and to stay low in order to avoid the body attack of Ward.
Gatti heeded the advice of his bespectacled sage and boxed his way to a wide unanimous decision win. The outcome of the fight caused many people to believe Gatti may be a viable contender again. Against second-tier opposition his boxing skills were clearly evident. At the top level though, Gatti was Gatti – a tough, hard nosed, exciting brawler.
With the score even at one a piece, and two epic battles behind them - a third match was a natural.
After cracking the code to beat Ward last time out, Gatti stuck to the plan early in their third fight - keeping Ward off-balance with nice movement and a snappy jab. The event would get the better of him though, as often happened when Gatti exchanged blows with an in-ring rival. The fighters thirsted for war.
Gatti broke his hand hitting Ward on the hip bone in the mid-rounds, but continued to trade punches in savage battle. They went at it with every ounce of their being in the final hurrah of one of the sport's most storied trilogies. This time Gatti came out ahead capturing a decision win.
Building on his fame from the trilogy with Ward, Gatti was once again in the hotseat. The fans knew and loved their hero, and he never gave them a dull fight.
Further successes and failures greeted Gatti in the ring after the Ward fights, but his iconic status and legacy as a warrior were secured. Perhaps his talent did not warrant the following he attracted, but his heart, determination and toughness did. A year after his untimely passing and beyond, these very attributes assure Gatti his place in history,
When future generations of fight fans are handed down stories of the timeless battles and warriors of yesterday - and the names Battling Nelson, Jack Dempsey and Rocky Marciano are echoed through history's hallowed walls, the name Arturo Gatti is sure to echo with the sound of THUNDER.