R.I.P Arturo Gatti – “Thunder” Is Gone But His Fights Will Live Forever


arturo gattiby James Slater – 2009 has been a pretty cruel year for fight fans. Only a few days ago we lost the great Alexis Arguello, then, yesterday, boxing lost two other very special practitioners of the noble art. Ireland’s John Caldwell died of cancer at the age of 71 and on the same day, Arturo Gatti – far more world renowned than the Belfast man who once held the world bantamweight title – was found dead in Brazil.

News is still being gathered as to how the 37-year-old modern day legend passed, but suspicious circumstances look highly plausible. Gatti is gone, however, and fans everywhere are saddened and stunned at the news. As courageous inside the ropes as any fighter you care to mention, it’s so unfair that Arturo has died now, when barely two years into his retirement from boxing.

Born in Italy on April 15th, 1972, Gatti was raised in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, and in June of 1991 the 19-year-old began a pro career that would see him become one of the sport’s most beloved and respected warriors..

Punching for pay, initially as a super-featherweight, Gatti went 6-0(5) before losing a spit verdict against King Solomon in Philadelphia in November of 1992. Gatti would not lose for another six years. Working his way towards super-featherweight title contention, Gatti earned himself fine wins over good fighters like Pete Taliaferro (TKO 1 to win the USBA title) and Richard Salazar (TKO 10) – before getting a shot at IBF 130-pound champion Tracy Harris Patterson in December of 1995. Gatti the boxer won a UD over 12-rounds and was a world champion at the age of 23.

Capable of showing off his fine boxing skills as well as brawling in an ultra-exciting fashion, it was the latter style that made Gatti the hero he is today. Known as either “Thunder” or, later, “The Human Highlight Reel,” Gatti punched his way into the hearts and minds of fight fans the world over. His first real classic came in October of 1997, as Arturo made the third defence of his IBF belt, against Mexico’s Gabriel Ruelas.

Hurt big time in the 4th-round – where he took shot after unanswered shot – Gatti somehow made it to the bell. Then, in the 5th, the crowd roaring as they would be in so many of their hero’s battles, Gatti starched Ruelas, a former world champion, with a cracking left hook to the head. The fight was later given Fight of The Year credentials by a number of publications.
Amazingly, Gatti would lose his next three fights.

Moving up to lightweight, Gatti was stopped on cuts in a thriller with Angel Manfredy. Downed in the 3rd before being stopped in the 8th-round, Gatti tasted his second defeat. Then, in two astonishing wars with Ivan Robinson, “Thunder” lost desperately close decisions. Far from diminish his popularity, these three setbacks further endeared Gatti to his fans.

A brutal and chilling KO of the much smaller Joey Gamache followed, in 2000 at light-welterweight, before Gatti moved up to 147 and fought a hi-profile battle with “The Golden Boy,” Oscar De La Hoya. Though he tried his best to win as always, in this fight it was Gatti who was the significantly smaller man. Oscar stopped him in the 5th-round in March of 2001 and many felt Gatti’s time at the top had gone.

Taking almost a year off, Gatti came back at 140-pounds in January of 2002. Stopping Terron Millet inside 4-rounds, Arturo now had new trainer and former world champion James “Buddy” McGirt helping him. Generally credited with saving his new fighter’s career by reintroducing him to his boxing skills, McGirt got Gatti back on track. However, one fight later, in the first of a now cherished three-fight series with “Irish” Micky Ward, Gatti was to lose again.

Boxing to McGirt’s orders for the first third or so of the non-title light-welterweight fight that took place in May of 2002, Gatti was then sucked into a war by Ward and the two put on a fight for the ages – a fight so good commentator Emanuel Steward referred to one of the fight’s rounds as “The Round of the Century!”

Gatti-Ward 1 truly was a throwback to the great days of the 1950s.

Two more savage wars ensued between the two fierce but respectful rivals – one in 2002, the other in 2003 – and though neither sequel was quite as good as the original, the action in fights two and three was very special indeed. Today, the Gatti-Ward trilogy is rightfully called one of the greatest in boxing history. All three wars somehow went the distance, with Gatti winning the series 2 to 1.

In hindsight, and though he would go on to become a two-time world champion by beating Italy’s Gianluca Branco for the WBC 140-pound belt in January of 2004, the Ward fights had all but drained Gatti of his full fighting prowess. Still as gutsy as ever, Gatti actually had an relatively easy night in out-pointing Branco, as he did in his first defence, a 2-round stoppage of Leonard Dorin six months later.

But then, after another less than physically demanding win, this one over a faded Jesse James Leija (KO 5), Gatti went in with future pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather Junior. The fight was no contest right from the start, with “Pretty Boy’s” amazing speed and accuracy taking Gatti apart in a dozen rounds. Pounded and utterly beaten, Arturo was kept on his stool by McGirt at the start of the 7th-round. There would, unfortunately, be no astonishing comeback win for the fan favourite in this fight.

Gatti’s career could well have ended right then and there, but Atlantic City’s favourite son (Gatti fought so often at The Boardwalk Hall in AC that the venue was known as “The House that Gatti Built) chose to box on. A win over unbeaten Dane Thomas Damgaard in January of 2006 (TKO 11) looked better than it was, but for the time being Gatti was back.

Now up at full welterweight, the 33-year-old was as popular as ever. There would be just two more fights to come, though; both losses.

Challenging new WBC 147-pound boss Carlos Baldomir in July of 2006, Gatti showed flashes of his old self, before being worn down and stopped in the 9th-round of a good fight. The curtain should definitely have been brought down on Gatti’s extraordinary career now, as Buddy McGirt knew, opting as he did to walk away from his position as trainer after the loss.

But Gatti gave it one more shot, against the relatively light-punching former Contender star Alfonso Gomez. Now trained by old foe and now firm friend Micky Ward, Gatti went out in sad fashion in the 7th-round against the man who idolised him. The win upset all concerned, including Gomez.

Finally, after one of the most amazing rides ever given to the world’s fights fans, Gatti’s career was over at the age of 35. Fittingly, Gatti’s last fight took place at the Boardwalk Hall. Retiring with a record of 40-9(31), Arturo, a two -time world champion, had earned a very special place in the history of his chosen sport – that of the most thrilling-to-watch fighter of the last half century or more.

Tragically, as we are all trying to take in, Arturo died less than two years into one of the most well earned retirements in all of boxing.



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