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The mysterious death of Arturo Gatti

Arturo Gatti
Killed in Brazil? Thomas Hauser on a new book about Arturo Gatti

KILLED in Brazil?: The Mysterious Death of Arturo “Thunder” Gatti by Jimmy Tobin is the latest in a series of short books published by Hamilcar that focus on the untimely deaths of well-known fighters. Arturo Gatti was regarded by many as the ultimate blood-and-guts warrior. His ring record was 40 wins (31 knockouts) against nine losses (five by KO). But as Tobin notes, “He was judged less by the outcomes of his fights than by their violence.” Gary Shaw, once COO of Main Events (Gatti’s promoter) declared, “Nobody ever said he was the greatest fighter in the world. But they did say he was the most exciting.”

When sober, Gatti was a likeable man who inspired fondness and loyalty among those who knew him. His fans idolised him. But his life outside the ring was marred by heavy drinking, drug use, and other wildly irresponsible conduct. Pat Lynch (Gatti’s manager) said that, whenever the phone rang in the wee small hours of the morning (which it did on more than one occasion) he always hoped it was Arturo asking for help rather than someone calling to tell him that Arturo had wrapped his car around a tree and was dead.

Gatti died in Brazil in 2009, two years after he retired from boxing. He was 37 years old. Depending on which version of events one believes, either he committed suicide by using the strap from his wife’s purse to hang himself from a staircase after a night of hard drinking and quarreling, or he was murdered by his wife, possibly with the assistance of one or more accomplices. Initially, his wife – a former exotic dancer named Amanda Rodrigues – was arrested and charged with murder. Three weeks later, the charges were dismissed.

Lengthy court proceedings in Quebec (where Gatti lived) resulted in a court judgement upholding a Last Will and Testament that bequeathed Arturo’s entire estate to his widow.

Killed in Brazil? is divided into three parts. Part Two summarises Gatti’s ring career. Parts One and Three explore the issues surrounding his death.

“Gatti,” Tobin writes, “had become a myth incarnate, a fighter for whom giving up was impossible. It isn’t difficult to understand why so many people refuse to believe he killed himself. Surely, Gatti, who never gave up in the ring, would never give up in life.”

In keeping with that view, Gatti’s family and friends hired their own investigators who interviewed witnesses, gathered forensic evidence, and disputed the findings of the Brazilian authorities.

But Tobin, who never takes a position as to whether he believes Gatti was murdered or committed suicide, also lays out the case that Arturo died by his own hand.

Gatti’s marriage was in crisis at the time of his death. Court documents filed in 2006 include testimony from a former girlfriend that Arturo had previously attempted suicide by overdosing on cocaine, alcohol, and prescription drugs.

“In the minds of the people who knew him best,” Tobin writes, “he was a warrior. He earned this reputation in the ring, where his capacity for enduring punishment had become mythological. He was a man who could endure absurd suffering. How easy then is it to assume this toughness extended beyond his body, that Gatti was psychologically rugged too?”

But, Tobin continues, “We should ask whether it is reasonable to limit a person’s capabilities to actions in keeping with our understanding of them. Gatti’s own career is instructive here. Before he turned the impossible into a routine, he first had to surprise us.”

Thus, Tobin cautions, “Gatti might not have been as resolute in the face of life’s challenges as he had been in the face of men’s fists. Pain in the ring has an end, and very often that end saw Gatti’s hand raised. It has a ceiling too. Pain in the ring? You know your opponent is susceptible to it and that, however much you both may hurt, you can put the pain behind you after the bell. Pain dissipates, heals, and is replaced by the flush of health and power that allows you to take it on anew. But not all pain is like that. And there were signs that Gatti’s resolve trembled a bit in response to the hurt you don’t stitch up or hide behind Ray-Bans.”

Most of the people who believe that Gatti was murdered focus on his love for life. I lean toward the conclusion that Arturo was murdered but for a different reason, one that I’ve previously stated.

The case that Gatti committed suicide rests, in Tobin’s words, on the following scenario: “Grimly fashioning a noose, adjusting it for size, positioning a stool, calculating the stability of his makeshift gallows – alone in this despairing ritual. He had to climb the stool too. His body betraying him from the seven cans of beer along with the two bottles of wine he’d consumed at dinner, betraying him from the head injury he’d suffered when that mob attacked him for throwing Amanda to the ground.”

And I might add, tying the makeshift noose to the staircase. I don’t think Arturo was capable of doing all of that on the night he died. Why not? In 2003, I was at the annual Boxing Writers Association of America dinner at a hotel in midtown Manhattan when Gatti and Micky Ward were co-honoured for participating in the 2002 Fight of the Year. Midway through the dinner, I left my seat to go to the men’s room. When I got there, an intimidating young man was blocking the entrance.

“You can’t go in there,” he said.

“Why can’t I go in there?”

“It’s in use. You’ll have to go to another floor.”

“What do you mean, it’s in use? There are a dozen urinals and toilets in there.”

At that point, Arturo staggered out of the men’s room, dead drunk, accompanied by a woman who looked very much like a dancer at a not-very-exclusive adult club.

“Blow job,” Arturo announced when he saw me.

And he pointed to his fly. Which was still unzipped.

In that condition, Arturo couldn’t have walked a straight line, let alone figured out the mechanics of detaching his wife’s purse strap, hooking it over a staircase railing, and hanging himself.

In the end, most people will believe what they want to believe.

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