IT was an extraordinary year for deaths. Alexis Arguello took his own life that June. But before him a long line of notable fighters have died in the previous seven months: Chris Finnegan, Mickey Goodwin, Ingemar Johansson, Pat McAteer, Greg Page, Giovanni Parisi and Jose Torres to name only a handful.
But then came the shocking discovery Arturo Gatti, only 37, was found dead in a luxury two-floor apartment in a northeast Brazilian beach resort.
Police suspect he was murdered and detained his 23-year-old Brazilian wife Amanda Rodrigues, accusing her of strangling the Italian-Canadian with the strap of her purse. Gatti also had head injuries.
It’s a barely believable tragedy. Police accused Rodrigues of murder.
According to police, Rodrigues couldn’t explain how she spent between four-10 hours in their apartment without noticing Gatti’s dead body. She denied murdering Gatti, claiming that a third party committed the crime. Police said there was no sign of forced entry. Apparently, she believed at first it was suicide.
Gatti’s family said Rodrigues had tried some time ago to convince Gatti to change his will, to leave her with more of his fortune.
Gatti and his wife of nearly two years reportedly had a stormy relationship even though they were on their second honeymoon (with 10-month-old son Arturo Jnr) and intended to spend a month in the South American country. Witnesses said they saw the couple rowing and that Gatti had been drinking heavily.
Gatti had been retired only two years, but there had already been one or two reports he was contemplating a comeback. I’m not certain how much truth to the rumours there were.
But needless to say, like so many big-name fighters, boxing meant the world to him.
He’d had difficulty adjusting to his new life, having returned to Montreal, and was arrested on a domestic violence charge against Rodrigues. The matter was later resolved out of court. Briefly, Gatti moved out of the couple’s Montreal penthouse to live with his mother.
Gatti was known to like the party life. For years it caused him to pile on excessive weight between fights.
It was around the time of his magnificent trilogy with Micky Ward (2002-2003, below) that Gatti, under a new trainer in Buddy McGirt, got his act in order. Although McGirt accentuated Gatti’s natural ability to box at the expense of his desire to brawl, the reconstruction was an extraordinary one.
Gatti, in his prime, was as exciting a fighter as any I can recall watching during my lifetime. He gave every shred of himself – fought with broken hands, closed, bleeding eyes and through brutal punishment – even until the end when it was clear he had lost the spark that enabled him to reign as ‘world’ champion at two weights (super-feather and light-welter).
He was known as “Thunder”. His contests were never silent affairs. His three-fight series with Ward is arguably the best modern trilogy and the battles against Ivan Robinson (twice), Gabe Ruelas, Wilson Rodriguez and Tracy Patterson absolutely sensational.
Gatti was a TV star and in an age when big- spending TV executives favour fighters with winning records and titles, an exception was made for Arturo because he always delivered edge-of-your-seat sustenance.
Fans were seldom disappointed, even when, at nearly 32 and under McGirt, he converted from puncher/slugger into consummate boxer.
But in doing so Gatti prolonged his career and captured a second ‘world’ title, albeit of the vacant WBC variety, when he outscored Italian Gianluca Branco [below]. One could never consider Gatti the best at light-welter at any point and that was proven when, probably for the money, he was matched against Floyd Mayweather in June 2005 and found himself outclassed and outpunched. The one-sided match lasted six rounds.
But even in clear defeat Gatti was still there pitching, trying his utmost.
Although he refrained from getting involved as much later in his career – and some felt Gatti was short-changing fans by doing so – Arturo remained fully committed to his tactics. I enjoyed as much watching him box artfully as I did when he stood and banged toe-to-toe.
By the end, though, when stopped first by Carlos Baldomir and then Alfonso Gomez, the fight had gone out of the outstanding warrior. It was sad to see him falter – by Arturo Gatti’s standards – so meekly.
Yet from 49 fights he was beaten only nine times. He scored 31 wins inside from 40. His left hook was a tremendous weapon. The blow that took out Ruelas in their October 1997 Atlantic City super-feather bruiser was spectacular. He had a heart to match.
Gatti lived then in Jersey City, about a two- hour drive from Atlantic City, where he regularly packed in the crowds.
It’s remarkable that after losing there by stoppage to Angel Manfredy in January 1998, then twice on points to slick Robinson, Oscar De La Hoya (rsf 5) and the first battle with Ward, Gatti would still go on to capture a major belt.
I watched most of Gatti’s fights on television, as did so many fight fans. He was made for the screen. But I also got to see him ringside several times, like when he smashed Joey Gamache in two at Madison Square Garden in 2000 (though was far heavier than his opponent) and bombed out former IBF 10st king Terron Millett at the Garden’s Theater in 2002.
Arturo had other great nights also. Taking out Canada’s unbeaten Leonard Dorin in 2004 with a body shot in two was a superb result.
Everybody loved watching Arturo Gatti. He was irresistible. He is missed.