Warrior is a term thrown around all too often in boxing these days. It seems every fighter who gives it his all, win or lose, is deemed a warrior – and they are. Anyone who steps in a boxing ring with the intent of punishing his opponent enough to say he is the better man is a warrior in every sense of the word. But the fighter of the modern era more deserving of that label than any other was Arturo “Thunder” Gatti, who died this past weekend on July 11.
Gatti was a fight fan’s dream – an all-action, nose first, sometimes boxer, most times brawler with a heavy punch. Swollen eyes became a staple of his fights, and getting cut over one or both was almost as common, but he never gave up or willingly backed down in a prizefight. Over his career, he won titles in two weight classes, junior lightweight and junior welterweight, and took an absurd amount of punishment, only to often come back and find a way to win.
It was from all of these attributes that a good Gatti fight was usually better than the best fight featuring most other fighters. Chronicled here are one writer’s opinion of the ten best fights featuring Gatti.
10. vs. Joe Hutchinson (September 8, 2000)
Hutchinson was undefeated but unproven when he headed into Quebec to fight in front of 20,000 screaming Gatti fans for a bout that was supposed to be more of a homecoming and a formality for Arturo than anything else. But Hutchinson gave Gatti a great fight, administering a terrible cut to Gatti’s left eye with what was ruled punch but appeared to be a headbutt in the second round. The cut could have warranted a stoppage, but the ringside doctor didn’t intervene, perhaps considering the Canadian fans who had paid to see their hero or the fact that Gatti had overcome so many other bad cuts in his career. Then, in the third round, Gatti suffered a smaller cut to his right eye; this time, clearly from a clash of heads.
Gatti felt he was the victim of dirty fighting and attempted to level the playing field by first trying to intentionally headbutt Hutchinson and then hitting him with a series of low blows until a point was taken away. Later, in round six, Gatti landed a perfectly timed left hook to the chest that put Hutchinson on the seat of his pants and Arturo back into the fight. Throughout the bout, Gatti had been committed to breaking Hutchinson down with body shots, and that proved to be the difference as Hutchinson’s activity dropped in the closing rounds. Gatti ultimately went on to win a wide unanimous decision in a fight that he should have only won by a point or two, but the fact that he was able to overcome the cuts and make it through the fight at all was impressive.
9. vs. Gianluca Branco (January 24, 2004)
After his epic trilogy with Micky Ward, Gatti had solidified himself as a legitimate contender at junior welterweight and earned a bout with Italy’s undefeated Gianluca Branco for the vacant WBC title. When Branco stepped into Atlantic City, few expected a tough challenge for Arturo, but Branco more than held his own in what can best be characterized as a tense chess match featuring committed power punching. In the seventh round, Gatti winced after landing a body shot, later confirmed to be a broken hand, and then got his head slammed straight back by a concussive right hand. Buddy McGirt, who was trying to turn Gatti into more of a boxer than a brawler at that time, desperately urged his charge not to worry about pleasing the crowd, but the war was already on.
After round eight, and with Branco becoming more confident with each passing round, McGirt told Gatti he had to win the last four rounds. Gatti lost the ninth but answered the call in round ten – big time. With both of his eyes swelling closed and in serious jeopardy of losing on points, Gatti scored with a huge left hook that sent Branco stumbling to the canvas and blew the lid off the Boardwalk Hall. The fans had been waiting for it all night. Branco picked himself up to make it to the final bell and had done well enough to make it a close, one point fight either way, but the judges saw it unanimously, and by surprisingly wide margins, in favor of Gatti, who left the Hall with a broken hand and his first title in six years.
8. vs. Angel Manfredy (January 17, 1998)
Gatti decided to make a permanent move up to the lightweight division in 1998, and it proved to be a difficult transition. Signing to fight Manfredy, a budding action-packed superstar who hadn’t lost since early in his career, guaranteed fireworks but also a stiff test for both men, who scored with solid, compact punches in round one, Manfredy cutting Gatti over the left eye. And in round two, he hurt Gatti with a left-right combination. After absorbing a left hook in the third, Gatti responded by tapping his chin and daring Manfredy to try another. Arturo landed some quality shots but was caught mid-swing with a left hook that spun him around and sent him face down on the canvas. Gatti beat the count, but, when the action resumed, Manfredy repeatedly snapped his head up with big shots. Miraculously, Gatti found the strength to come back, and he was actually the one landing the big shots as the round ended, walking away with a smile on his face in spite of being floored and down on points.
Arturo showed great resolve in winning the fourth round with a relentless body attack. Round five took place entirely in the center of the ring, with neither man backing down to the hard punches from the other. Just when it looked like Manfredy would overwhelm him, Arturo came back in the final seconds with some brilliant combinations. He hit Manfredy with everything in his arsenal in round six but couldn’t seem to do any real damage; Manfredy, on the other hand, visibly stunned Gatti in the round. In round seven, Manfredy stung Gatti by landing a right hand on the cut eye and proceeded to land a volley of hard shots as Gatti played defense. Sucking it up and ignoring his worsening cut, Gatti went back to being the aggressor in round eight, walking into more punishment. Then, almost out of nowhere, Gatti’s corner decided to throw in the towel and stop what had been a great match of wills. Losing didn’t sit well with Gatti, who was certainly in bad shape but not ready to lose just yet.
7. vs. Micky Ward II (November 23, 2002)
The first fight between Gatti and Ward was so unbelievable there was no question they would do it again. Fighting on his turf at Atlantic City, Gatti was determined to not give the fans a repeat. Under the tutelage of McGirt, he was committed to boxing rather than giving Ward a chance by brawling. And box well he did, beginning in round one, where he scored with hard rights to the body and head. Still, a battle was bound to break out, and it took no longer than round two after Ward landed lefts and rights, which prompted Gatti to open up to the body. In round three, Gatti caught Ward coming in with a right hand to the temple that sent him stumbling forward, head first into the turnbuckle padding before his knee touched down. Ward was extremely wobbly as he beat the count, and Gatti proceeded to wail away on him with big shots, nearly driving Ward through the ropes. Ward survived the onslaught and even dared Gatti to hit him some more before coming back with his own punches until Gatti responded by nearly knocking him through the ropes again.
Gatti looked to Referee Earl Morton to stop the fight, but Ward suddenly sprung to life, hurting Gatti with a left hook to the body. Then, it was Ward’s turn to let his hands go, pummeling Gatti for the remainder of a classic round that mirrored the first fight. After a competitive round four in which Ward cut Gatti over the left eye and landed some vicious body shots, Arturo took over the fight, punishing Ward with combinations in rounds five and six, slipping counter shots even dancing. Round seven was the most dominant round of the trilogy as Gatti moved about, stunning Ward with big shots to the head. The fight become so one-sided that Ward’s corner thought about throwing in the towel, but that lit a fire under Ward, and he engaged Gatti in wild exchanges to end the round. In round ten, they rediscovered the magic of the first fight and ended the bout throwing everything they had at one another. When the dust settled, Gatti took a wide unanimous decision in a fight that didn’t live up to the first fight but also didn’t disappoint in the least.
6. vs. Gabriel Ruelas (October 4, 1997)
In what would be the last defense of his junior lightweight title, Gatti only needed half a round to start shooting power shots with Ruelas. And in the second round, Gatti’s left hooks were starting to visibly shake Ruelas up. He drilled Ruelas coming in with a right and followed up with a left hook to take an early lead in the fight. A straight right and a left hook stood Ruelas’ head up in the third, but he wasn’t backing down at all, and Gatti was starting to swell up under his left eye from catching shots in return. In a particularly brutal fourth round, Gatti wobbled Ruelas back with a right. Ruelas then let his hands fly for the last minute and a half, hurting Gatti with a left hook and an uppercut, and proceeded to land twenty unanswered punches as Gatti stumbled around the ring. Just when he looked out, however, Gatti came back to land a monstrous left hook just before the bell, and a good fight had become a war.
Round five saw both men throwing hard uppercuts and left hooks without a break, Ruelas hurting Gatti again just seconds in. After landing uppercuts that knocked Ruelas around the ring but failed to deter him, Gatti absorbed some in return until he was badly cut over the left eye. Fighting in reverse, Gatti connected with a body shot, a left hook and a right hand. But Ruelas kept coming forward until Gatti drilled him with a huge left hook that sent him down in a flash, landing with a thud and hitting the back of his head on the canvas. Ruelas found the strength to beat the count at nine, but Referee Benjy Esteves didn’t like the look of him and stopped the bout. Ruelas didn’t complain as Gatti buried his head on the canvas in celebration. The violence was brief, but it left its mark on both men, and the fight was named the 1997 Fight of the Year.
5. vs. Ivan Robinson II (December 12, 1998)
The rematch between Gatti and Robinson followed in the footsteps of their first encounter, with Robinson using his hand speed and accurate punches to outwork Gatti, beginning at the end of round one. Gatti suffered a cut over the left eye in the second round but came back to stun Robinson with a right hand in the third. Then, it was Gatti’s turn to tee off for a while, only to punch himself out, and, by the end of the round, it was Robinson smashing Gatti’s exposed head from side to side with huge bombs that threatened to end the fight. In an amazing display of heart and sheer will, Gatti stood up to more than thirty flush power shots, twice being knocked onto wobbly legs. They slugged it out in the center of the ring for most of round five, and as they were shaking off shots that should have floored them, Gatti, then Robinson, played to the crowd by pretending to be hurt from the punches as if they were sharing a joke with each other – as if they knew the drama they produced was just too good to be true.
A big right hand in round six doubled Gatti over, and Robinson probably should have had the fight won on the cards by that point. But Gatti refused to go quietly and weathered another onslaught of hellacious blows in the last half minute of round seven. Gatti was docked a point in the eighth for excessive low blows, which was a shame because it was the only round he clearly won all fight as he went on to batter Robinson to the body. Just when they were tearing into each other in round ten, Referee Benjy Esteves stopped the action to have Arturo’s worsening cut checked by the ringside doctor. While the lull didn’t kill Gatti’s chances of a knockout, it certainly didn’t help them any as Robinson came back to edge a round that saw both men so exhausted they were holding each other up with their punches at times. By the final bell, Robinson appeared to have won a landslide decision, but Arturo only lost by a point on two cards and five on another, giving Robinson the unanimous decision. It was Gatti’s third consecutive loss, all within the year, and most critics considered him on his way out of the fight game. He would go on to fight almost another decade.
4. vs. Ivan Robinson (August 22, 1998)
The first meeting between Gatti and Robinson is best remembered for its furious pace. Robinson, known as a very good boxer, had no problem with Gatti forcing the action on him and accepted the challenge in round one by answering some big left hooks with his own head-turning shots. Gatti worked the body for most of round two but nearly had his head taken off by a monstrous uppercut from Robinson late in the round. Round three was a constant exchange of punches until Gatti succumbed in the waning seconds and took ten hard shots to the head. With his left eye beginning to swell shut on him, Gatti put Robinson down on his hands and knees with a well placed right hand to the temple in the fourth. After a hot fifth round, Robinson drilled Gatti with a twelve-punch rally to end the six, forcing Arturo to hold on. Then, to the shock of everyone watching, Gatti turned around and caught Robinson with a huge right hand that hurt him. Robinson stumbled around the ring and had to cover up as Gatti pounded him until the bell.
Even though it got him hurt and nearly knocked out in the sixth, Robinson continued letting his hands go the rest of the way, landing enough to completely close Gatti’s eye by the eighth round. Robinson was losing round nine until scoring with ten flush shots to the head, and a buzzed Gatti nearly went down. The final round was fought as furiously as the first, but Robinson was winning it big – that is, until Gatti hurt him with a huge left hook. Without his legs to support him, Robinson wobbled into the ropes and covered up as Gatti beat on him for the last minute of the fight. In the end, it wasn’t enough as Gatti failed to finish Robinson or put him down again. Instead, Robinson survived to the final bell and escaped with a split decision in a close fight that went on to be named 1998’s Fight of the Year.
3. vs. Micky Ward III (June 7, 2003)
The second fight between Gatti and Micky Ward hadn’t lived up to the impossible hype generated by their first encounter, but it had still been exciting. And when the third fight was signed, nobody planned to miss it. Gatti had dominated portions of the second fight and looked to be on his way to repeating that performance through the first two rounds of the rubbermatch, using better boxing to redden Ward’s face and bloody his nose. In the third, he appeared to stun Ward with a series of body shots against the ropes. It wasn’t until round four when Gatti suffered a major break – quite literally – that the fight broke out. After connecting with a right to the hip, Gatti winced in pain, and Ward instantly took over, roughing Arturo up and beating him around the ring, at one point landing five unanswered uppercuts. Ever the warrior, Gatti fought back, mostly with only his left hand, to make it a close round. Collapsing on his stool, Gatti informed McGirt of the situation between rounds and, when asked what he wanted to do about it, announced, “I gotta keep going.”
Using his left, Gatti out boxed Ward for most of round five and even managed to sneak in enough right hands to cut him. At the end of the round, they traded ripping shots to the delight of the crowd. Gatti was on his way to winning round six until Ward scored with a right over the top of the head with only seconds left and dumped Gatti to the canvas. With four rounds to go, a ringside doctor examined Gatti while Ward’s corner tended to his cuts, physical evidence of the war they were in. Standing and delivering in the center of the ring, Ward hurt Gatti with a right in the seventh and opened a cut over his eye shortly thereafter. Gatti responded by hammering Ward with a left hook that doubled him over and brought the crowd to its feet in an epic round. Gatti boxed brilliantly over the last three rounds, even slugging it out with Ward in the final thrilling seconds. When the bell rang, they embraced, and Gatti won the trilogy with a unanimous decision. The fighters became good friends afterward, Ward even becoming a part of Gatti’s team after retiring.
2. vs. Wilson Rodriguez (March 23, 1996)
In the first defense of his IBF Junior Lightweight Championship, Gatti got all he could handle from Wilson Rodriguez – to the benefit of Madison Square Garden. The heavy handed challenger landed increasingly more power punches as the first round progressed, and already Gatti’s right eye had swelled up on him. Knowing his eye wouldn’t hold up, Gatti pressed the attack in round two and walked into a short left hook that sent him down; Rodriguez even got in another right to the head before Gatti hit the canvas. Back on his feet, Gatti stunned Rodriguez with a left hook just before the bell, and both fighters nearly went to the wrong corner after being knocked loopy. Trying to open Gatti’s eye on the stool between rounds, cut man Joe Souza bluntly informed Arturo that he was out of time and needed to knock Rodriguez out. Gatti obeyed orders and came out swinging in round three, stunning Rodriguez with a big right. In a classic round, Gatti scored with jarring left hooks throughout, some wobbling the sturdy chinned Rodriguez, but taking severe punishment in return.
As good as round three was, round four was even better, with Rodriguez hurting Gatti and bouncing his head around like a pinball in the corner, only to have Gatti fight back and finish the round smashing shots into Rodriguez against the ropes on the other side of the ring. Between rounds, the ringside doctor tested Gatti’s vision three times, and an adamant Gatti barked responses. After losing a point for excessive low blows, Gatti dropped Rodriguez to his knees with a body shot in the fifth, briefly turning the tide, before Rodriguez finished the round hammering Arturo once again. Through a consistent body attack in the sixth, many of the shots catching Rodriguez low, Gatti finally slowed his man. And when Rodriguez stepped in for a left hook, he was met head-on with Gatti’s own version and knocked down and out, never beating the count. With both eyes badly swollen, Gatti celebrated one of the most dramatic comeback wins ever seen in boxing. The fight lost out on Fight of the Year honors to Evander Holyfield-Mike Tyson I but remains the better, if less significant fight.
1. vs. Micky Ward (May 8, 2002)
Despite both men being considered past their best, when Ward and Gatti were first scheduled to fight one another, everyone knew to expect a barnburner. Gatti had won two Fight of the Year awards already and been in the running for another, while Ward had taken the previous year’s award with his classic battle against Emmanuel Augustus. Matching them together before either retired was only logical.
Fighting on what can be considered home turf in Uncasville, Connecticut, Ward tried to attack to start, but, by the end of the first round, Gatti was beating him up with hard combinations and badly cut him over the right eye. Gatti was even more dominant in round two, beating Ward to the body. In the third round, the fight finally broke out as Ward started finding Gatti with his famous left hook to the body and stunning him on occasion. For an incredible thirty seconds, they traded bombs, one punch at a time, in the center of the ring, giving the crowd all they could handle.
In the fourth round, Ward stunned Gatti with a right hand and worked the body, only for Gatti to come back within seconds and batter Ward with five or six shots to the face. Ward answered with a left to the body that froze Gatti and allowed him to tee off freely on Arturo’s unguarded head. Near the end of the round, Gatti struck Ward low, dropping him and earning a point deduction from Cappuccino, who also ended the round early when the timekeeper mistakenly rung the bell. But the fans could hardly feel cheated as the action in round four was more than the action seen in two or three rounds of most fights.
Round five baffled everyone with its intensity as the punches came non-stop. Gatti threw everything, including the kitchen sink, at Ward throughout the round but could hardly make a dent in his iron-chinned opponent. At the very end of the round, having withstood punches that had every right to put him down, Ward rattled off more than fifteen flush shots, knocking Gatti’s head every which way but off, to win a round that had to be seen to be believed.
Now cut over the right eye, Gatti realized he had to get back to boxing to win the fight and did so extremely well for the next two rounds. But in round eight, it was back to a brawl again as Ward took a beating and came back, hurting Gatti and landing fifteen unanswered power shots to finish the round and steal it.
But nothing could prepare anyone for what would happen in round nine. Fifteen seconds in, Ward connected with two lefts to the body, and a frozen Arturo had no choice but to take a knee to avoid being knocked out. Gatti beat the count at nine but was immediately battered around the ring by twenty straight power shots from Ward. Having punched himself out, Ward could do little but try to cover up as Gatti roared back with his own twenty-punch volley of power shots. Ward finally answered with two huge rights, and Gatti couldn’t even raise his hands to defend himself as Ward ripped him with uppercuts. Gatti turned sideways in the ropes in the only way he was able to avoid punches, but Ward teed off on his head with twenty more power shots. Maybe he shouldn’t have been allowed to, but Arturo made it to the bell, ending the greatest round in the fight and perhaps the history of boxing.
So devastating was round nine that both men looked like they might have to have the fight called off; Ward even hopped off his stool thinking Gatti had given up, but Cappuccino pulled them together and declared, “This fight ain’t over.” And it certainly wasn’t as Gatti, ever the warrior, somehow came out and won the last round. As exhausted and beaten as both men were, they tore the roof off the Mohegan Sun by trading heavy blows all the way to the final bell.
Gatti appeared to have done enough for a draw but lost a majority decision to Ward by one and two points on the cards. The fight was named the 2002 Fight of the Year and remains one of the two greatest fights of the modern era if not all time, debatably only behind the first Diego Corrales-Jose Luis Castillo bout from 2005.
So there you have it – the ten greatest fights featuring Arturo Gatti, boxing’s drama king. From cuts to blurred vision to come-from-behind knockouts, Gatti weathered it all in boxing and made a lot of money and fans doing it. If ever there was a set of greatest hits to own, it’s that of Gatti.
To quote a common phrase of boxing commentators from the Gatti era, “If Arturo’s ever in a bad fight, it’ll be his first.” It’s safe to say now that Gatti was never in a bad fight when he was in the ring.
Tags: Arturo Gatti, Boxing