The boxing world was united in mourning today when it was confirmed that Arturo Gatti had been found dead in his Brazilian condo. With police reports stating that they cannot rule out foul play given the nature of the injuries found on the body it seems that the fighter, who was plagued with personal problems outside of the ring, will continue to make headlines after he his untimely death at only 37.
One of Canada’s most successful fighters, Gatti was someone that once you had seen him in action you could never forget. It was like someone peeled a Rocky Balboa right off the celluloid and dropped him into reality, never telling him that all out aggression was the stuff of movies not the more unforgiving fight game. His unrelenting style was one of the things that kept him out of that special bracket reserved for the great and god-like, but it was the same quality that made him a fan’s favourite the world over. To watch him fight was to be entertained. His desire to not only win, but to achieve victory in the most spectacular means possible, made him the boxing equivalent of a Brazilian soccer player.
His credentials as an entertainer can be verified through watching some of his legendary bouts. There can be few who don’t remember his 1996 IBF World Super-Featherweight Title defence against Wilson Rodriguez. Gatti looked in big trouble, being dropped in the second round and with his right eye almost sealed shut due to bruising. It was the true grit of champions that saw Arturo through, enabling him to floor his opponent with a crippling body shot in the fifth, then end the fight in the next round by TKO with a flurry of unanswered blows. The bout was nominated for “fight of the year” by Ring Magazine, starting a hat-trick of nominations for this award with two victories, but surprisingly this fight wasn’t one of them.
It was the kind of feat it seemed only Gatti could pull off regularly. Another title defence the following year, this time against Gabriel Ruelas, ended in similar fashion. The Canadian looking to have been beaten when he was reeling from a vicious uppercut and took over a dozen punches offering little in the way of reply. Literally saved by the bell, it seemed that from that point the fight could only go one way. But Gatti, unlike his cinematic counterpart, didn’t follow scripts and came out all guns blazing even though still clearly groggy. He knocked Ruelas out with a devastating left and sent the crowd into raptures.
Perhaps he is best known for his trilogy of fights against Irish man Micky Ward. Each installment was worthy of note, but the third again showed the gladiatorial courage readily associated with the fighter. A failed uppercut that connected with Ward’s hip saw Gatti break his hand and have to fight the rest of the contest effectively one-handed, only throwing his injured right sparingly, yet still won a unanimous points victory despite being floored. It was another unbelievable classic thanks to a fighter that continually produced the extraordinary in the ring.
Retiring with a record of 49 fights, 40 victories and 31 of those coming by way of knockout is something that speaks for itself, but as with all things statistics only tell a small fraction of the story. To watch Gatti fight was to see the simple purity of the sport in action, no gimmicks, no politics, just one man willing to go as far as it took to come out victorious and to make the crowd cheer his name. In a sport that has been polluted by external factors it is arguable that the true champions are those that remain incorruptible and humble, giving back priceless indelible memories in place of what they take.
And so it is a true tragedy that there will be no chance to reminisce of those great moments with the man himself, to see the genuine affection that many felt for this most earnest of fighters become fully realised in a time when the sport cries out for someone with his entertaining sensibilities. Instead we are left with little more ahead than morbid details, answers to questions no one wanted to ask. Boxing will no longer be the same now that the man they called “Thunder” is quiet.