Jul 12, 2009

I close my eyes and hear thunder

In the world of boxing, becoming a belt holder has quickly become immaterial to a certain degree. Sanctioning bodies have done their best to work against a sport I love but in the last year and a half, catch weights and fighters deciding to fight the best and only the best have returned to the scene. Fighters like Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez are fighting the best of the best and beating them. Titles are being ignored and immortality is the gold on everyone's mind.

In a sport that is beautiful in its brutality though, few people made me love boxing more than Arturo 'Thunder' Gatti. He showed the value of resolve, courage, and sheer heart. His defense? Forgettable. His offense? Anything but. Proclaimed as the Blood and Guts champion, Gatti did things almost alien to many of the flashier fighters of the sport: He spoke with his fists much more than he did with his mouth. His idea of showboating was taking brutal punishment only to flash out a perfect left hook that had his opponent wondering who the current president was. He was the type of boxer that makes you appreciate the sweet science just as much as his fights showed what mountains could be climbed out of sheer will.

Was Gatti the greatest boxer in the world? No. Of course not. He was simply one of the greatest boxers to watch. Plain and simple. Hittable, vulnerable and brave to a fault. If ever there was a boxer to always go out on his shield and never on his stool, look no further. He was the guy with the lacking skillset but the tenacity to take five shots to give you one of those perfect left hooks.

In a career that transitioned from the 90's to the 2000's, Gatti fought like it was 1950 and looked the part, having slick hair, suits and a face that wouldn't have been out of place next to the likes of Al Capone.

On May 2002, I was fortunate enough to have my tv on HBO and saw that the card would have a guy named Arturo Gatti face off another guy named Micky Ward. The names were familiar since Micky had already been in fight of the year winners or candidates. SO I thought I was going to see a great fight. I simply had no pre-conception that I was about to watch history in the making and a fight I'd be telling my grand children about. If I had to pick my top five fights in my life off the top of my head, you'd see: Leonard VS Hagler, Marquez VS Pacquiao 1, Trinidad VS Vargas, Marquez VS Diaz, and Gatti VS Ward 1. After I start thinking I remember Foreman VS Ali, Ali VS Frazier 1, Barrera VS Morales 1 and 3, Morales VS Pacquiao 1, Judah VS Cotto, Argueyo VS Pryor, Chavez VS Taylor, Hagler VS Hearns, and countless others. But off the top of my head, those five fights jump out because it was anyone's match until they ended.

Gatti VS Ward 1 has the distinction of being considered fight of the century simply because it was a power punch bonanza and the fact that neither man got knocked out in ANY of the three fights is beyond comprehension, but that first fight... it was something special, and in my room, thousands of miles away, I was a part of that... and I felt special for it.

I've watched the fight in its entirety nine times, the most I've ever watched any fight and I'm still amazed. Much credit also has to go to Frank Cappucino for letting history be made. When people thought the fight had been stopped, you could clearly hear Frank Cappucino say "The fight ain't over". But the sheer grit of both Ward and Gatti are something to behold. In round 4, Gatti connected a low blow that would have made Andrew Golotta proud. After miscommunication, Ward did not get the five minutes a boxer is allowed to recover, the bell rings, he goes to the corner and when asked what to do, he replies by saying, I'm good to go. Gatti for his part took Ward's signature left hook about twenty times too often and finally took a knee. He didn't crumble, he didn't wilt, he just took a knee, beat the 8 count and proceeded to offer up more punishment. I have truly NEVER seen a tug of war battle as fierce as this fight and momentum changed at a dizzying pace.

It's the type of fight I wish I could have shared with my grandfather. In round 9, heralded by many present as the round of the century (although round five is amazing as well), over 100 power punches were connected and how any of the two fighters could continue or even want to continue, is baffling. In a time where some people quit because they broke their hand, or they got hit low, or they're tired, these two men had the audacity to come back for another round and two follow-up fights that cemented their place in boxing history.

Earlier today I found out Arturo Gatti was found dead in brazil.

That sentence alone forced me to almost take a knee. I've felt the urge to cry but haven't. After all, if people could weep over Michael Jackson, I could shed a tear in the name of one of my favorite boxers of all time. But that would be a disservice to one of the fiercest warriors ever to enter a squared circle, so I've held out. I've held out because that's what he would have done. He would have taken it. He would recognize that it hurt. That it hurt a lot and that it could make him go down, but he wouldn't as long as his will and his body could hold out. That's because that's the type of boxer he was. He was a fan favorite because yes he fought for fame and money, but the way he fought was exclusively for the fans and in the world of boxing, we were all champions and had a taste of gold every time he laced his gloves, started to walk to the ring, and we could hear the immortal riff from AC/DC with Brian Johnson calling out his real name. Not the one he was given when he was a baby. Not a nickname from his teens. His real name. His warrior name.


I close my eyes... and in my memories and in my heart, I hear thunder... and I take a knee.

Gatti VS Ward Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5


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