Tuesday, July 10, 2007


From left: Now best friends "Irish" Micky Ward and Arturo "Thunder" Gatti

They fought three unbelievable wars against one another.

They exposed their hearts, bared their souls and shed their blood as they battled for thirty rounds in two different states over a thirteen-month period. Between May 2002 and June 2003 Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward became boxing legends. Their fights were like the fictional battles of Rocky Balboa versus Apollo Creed, filled to the brim with knockdowns, blood and drama - except they were real.

Like Ali and Frazier, Zale and Graziano, Saddler and Pep the names Gatti and Ward will be forever linked in boxing lore.

They became close friends after the punches stopped flying and now the retired Ward is training Gatti for Saturday’s fight against ‘The Contender’ reality show alumnus Alfonso Gomez in Atlantic City.

After the way he looked in his last fight against Argentina’s Carlos Baldomir, many in the boxing community began calling for Arturo Gatti’s retirement. Gatti, otherwise known as “the blood and guts warrior” or the “human highlight film” was knocked out in nine rounds against Baldomir. There would be no miraculous comeback on this night and it definitely wasn’t the same Arturo Gatti that boxing fans were used to seeing.

Gatti blames the knockout loss to Baldomir on a family situation gone bad and on a woman that he never should have gotten involved with.

“The last fight was very poor, but I was having major problems at home,” he explains. “I got involved with Satan’s daughter. She came into my life and she tried to destroy me as a person. If things aren’t working mentally for me the rest don’t follow up. I was sad because that was the only fight in my life that I wanted to pull out. But, I couldn’t do it for HBO, for Main Events and for my trainer or for myself. I’m not a guy that pulls out of fights. I’ve fought with broken hands, you know, and that’s the worse thing to do.”

Gatti is now 35 years old and this will be his 49th pro fight in a career that began 16 years ago. Every fight seems like it has been a war. He has made millions of dollars in prize money. He has thousands of Grateful Dead-like followers that pack Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall to see if he can defy odds and perform like a daredevil in the ring.

In his French-Canadian accent the Montreal born Gatti defends his decision to keep fighting. “I feel great,” he says. “I’ve been in a lot of wars but most of the time it was my opponents who were hurt worse than I was. I got this ability, I got this gift that I’m not one of those fighters that gets damaged as much as others do.”

Despite his hard-partying reputation which include arrests, bar brawls and allegations of cocaine use, Gatti says “I got good legs,” and then he grins. “Probably the best legs in boxing and I’m always in great shape. I work hard like an animal and that’s what people forget. Every time I step into the ring I’m in great, great, great shape.”

He’s all blood and guts in the ring but he has boyish-like qualities outside of it. He’s small in stature and in a crowd of people you would hardly notice him because he stands a diminutive 5’7” and weighs only about 145 pounds. He’s quick to smile and likes to laugh. Outside the ring he dresses like a rockstar would, wears dark sunglasses, has both ears pierced, drapes crucifixes around his neck and his arms are covered with tattoos.

On the days that he fights, just he and his mother have lunch together. She worries herself sick about her son when he goes into battle. For you must remember, Arturo Gatti, who is as close to a real-life gladiator that there is, bleeds real blood, takes real punches and he really gets knocked down.

But so far, the little boy in him has always gotten back up.

When asked about Saturday night’s opponent who has made his name because of ‘The Contender” reality show, Gatti is skeptical. “Gomez? I don’t have much to say about him,” quipped Gatti, who is as real life as it gets. “He’s coming from ‘The Contender’. There’s a reason why those guys fought on ‘The Contender’ because they didn’t want to fight real fighters because there wouldn’t be no show, there wouldn’t be no season because those guys would be knocked out. He knows he’s fighting a great fighter now.”

After the Baldomir fight, Gatti claimed he had a look at his life and some of the people in it and decided to clean house. He and trainer Buddy McGirt, who was with him for over four years and through all of the fights against Ward, parted company. And Gatti said he rid himself of a cluster leeches that cling to prizefighters like drug dealers to street corners.

When he decided to fight again he didn’t know who was going to train him, but then, like the rest of his life, things came into focus. “When I was looking for a trainer I was debating with a few guys,” said Gatti. “I said ‘You know what? Micky Ward is definitely going to be the guy.’ “We fought 30 rounds together. He’s not here to teach me how to fight but to just remind me to do the things that I do best.”

For the 41 year-old Ward, who had settled into retired life in his hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts with his wife Charlene, and hasn’t fought since his last fight against Gatti in June 2003, he jumped at the chance to train his friend. “It’s good. I know his style,” says the amicable Ward who has an accent like a New England fisherman. “We know what he has to do to win this fight and we wanna’ get a good gameplan together and I think it’s going good so far.”

The two have been locked away in training camp in Florida for the past several weeks and watching the two in a ring together again is a surreal experience. As Ward holds the pads and Gatti pounds away, one almost expects a brawl to break out at any moment. But the two get along wonderfully and Gatti does seem to have the old spring in his step again. Having Ward around seems to have reinvigorated him.

When asked what he wants to see from Gatti in training camp, the disciplined Ward, who fought his entire 18-year professional career at 140-pounds is to the point. “To get him in great shape, get his legs in great shape and get him mentally prepared,” says the no nonsense New Englander. “Because you know he’s been a three-time world champion. You’re not going to teach him nothin’ he don’t know.”

Ward is realistic about what the future holds for Gatti and he is even more realistic about what may happen on Saturday night. It’s clear that he has thought a lot about the fight and about his friend.

“I think Arturo’s got a lot left,” says Ward. “But like anything else at this stage you’ve gotta’ take one at a time. You can’t look ahead, not at this age you can’t. You’ve gotta’ look at it realistically, meaning win this fight and see what happens after this. You don’t look down the road; you can’t look down the road at this point. You win and win good.”

Many figure that because Ward was a come ahead banger with an awesome left hook to the body that he’ll enforce that mantra and have Gatti go back to his old slugging ways. But according to Ward nothing could be further from the truth. So, will we see Gatti the boxer or Gatti the slugger on Saturday night?

“Well, obviously he can do both, but we want speed,” claims Ward. “Speed’s the name of the game. Speed generates power so you know we’re looking at speed, leg movement, usin’ his legs all night long to outbox this guy.”

While that may not please the crowd, Ward knows that at this stage it may be the best thing for Gatti’s long-term health and well being. In Gomez, Ward sees what everybody else sees, a kid that is only 26 years old with just 21 pro fights. “Gomez is a tough kid and he comes to fight,” says Ward. “But I feel he has slow feet and that he’s going to be a step behind. But take nothin’ away from him, you can’t take nothin’ away from a guy, he’s willing and he has a lot of heart and he has heavy hands.”

The big question that surrounds Arturo Gatti at this point in his career is whether he should be fighting at all. He is the one fighter that has given boxing fans more thrills and chills than any fighter in recent memory but over the years he has absorbed a tremendous amount of punishment. Many openly criticize HBO for continuing to televise his fights and the fact of the matter is that Baldomir and Floyd Mayweather, Jr. have knocked him out in two of his last three fights.

But aside from Gatti and Ward, hall of fame trainer and HBO boxing analyst Emanuel Steward also believes that Gatti still has something left. “Unlike a lot of other people, I don’t think Arturo Gatti is shot,” says the wise teacher. “He’s been in a lot of tough fights. I thought Mayweather was the computer print out of the guy to avoid but he fought him anyway. And when he fought Baldomir, I thought Baldomir that night, was so strong physically, emotionally, spiritually he was just too powerful, but Arturo still fought a tremendous fight. And strangely all of those wars he’s been in he still has the same excitement that gives me a thrill.”

And for Arturo Gatti, he has no illusions about what a poor performance or a loss will mean for his career as a prizefighter. The young, careless warrior who dove in headfirst against all comers has been replaced by an old dog determined to learn new tricks. “Every fight I’m fighting now is my last fight,” says Gatti, “So I’m gonna’ fight the best I can fight the next fight. I’m gonna’ use my head.”

At age 35, it would seem the sun has set on the old gunfighter’s career but Gatti is determined to duel on his own terms. “I’m gonna’ show you guys,” he says. “I don’t have to prove to you guys I can fight, but I’m gonna’ show myself that I’ve got all of the abilities to stick around.”

And Micky Ward, his brother in arms, has his back.

July 2007

No comments: