Arturo Gatti Punches His Way Into Hall of Fame
Lou Eisen / January 22, 2013 - 11:00am
It was his first title defense against the tough and taller Wilson Rodriguez that helped Arturo Gatti burst into the public's consciousness with a sudden and dramatic impact. He had won the IBF super featherweight world title three months earlier by defeating the ultra slick Tracy Harris Patterson via a twelve round decision. Against Rodriguez, Gatti was behind in the fight and he knew it. Two of the three judges had Rodriguez ahead. Gatti was also in bad shape, bleeding from deep cuts over both eyes, which were almost swollen shut. His lips were cut and he was bleeding profusely from a broken nose. In short, Gatti was a mess.
Referee Wayne Kelly was threatening to stop the fight at the end of the sixth round and for good reason. Gatti simply could no longer see any of Rodriguez's punches coming. Then, with a mere 44 seconds left in the sixth round, it happened. Gatti, threw a powerful, looping left hook (ala Joe Frazier) that caught Rodriguez squarely on the chin, dropping him to the canvas unconscious. Rodriguez fell to the mat as if he had been shot. It was over. Kelly could have slowly counted to one thousand. It would have made no difference. Gatti had retained his beloved IBF world super featherweight world title in stunning, dramatic fashion with one, emphatic, brain rattling punch. It would become his ring signature. His life and career would never be the same again.
The Boxing Writers Association of America recently inducted the late superstar into the International Boxing Hall of Fame with the class of 2013. Although it won't provide closure for the Gatti family, his fans or the members of his team, who miss him terribly, his induction will provide them with a brief respite, sort of a temporary restraining order on grief for all those who love and remember the fallen fighter. Gatti, the former junior lightweight and junior welterweight world titleholder, who retired in 2007 with a record of 40-9 (30 KOs), will now take his rightful place among many other all-time fistic greats.
There is no doubt that Gatti earned his spot in the Hall of Fame by engaging in some of the most thrilling and exciting fights in boxing history. He always wore his heart on his sleeve, which endeared him to his legions of fans. Gatti fought his heart out in all of his fights. The one-minute rest period in between rounds was almost a personal insult to Gatti as all he longed to do was make war with his fists. It was the core of his very essence. If ever a man was born to be a prizefighter, it was Gatti.
Gatti delighted his millions of fans with many thrilling, highlight reel, action packed fights, which fans still talk about today. His trilogy with Micky Ward is still watched and avidly discussed all over the world. Boxing works in strange ways. After his brutal, savage trilogy with Micky Ward had ended, the two became close friends with Ward emerging as Gatti's closest friend and staunchest ally. They fought three times and then became friends for life. In fact, they became family. In a perfect world, isn't that how it is supposed to happen?
One can only imagine the smile that crossed Mickey Ward's face when he heard the news that his best friend had made it into the Hall. Both fighters will be known for their three toe-to-toe phone-booth slugfests, in which they proceeded to beat, batter and pummel the stuffing out of each other. Their trilogy brought out the best in each other and the best that boxing has to offer.
Ironically, Ward was one of Gatti's corner men for his last professional fight, in which he suffered a knockout defeat at the hands of Alfonso Gomez. Immediately after the fight a very heartwarming moment occurred, which went largely unnoticed by most fans. As the reality of his defeat sunk in Gatti planted his head deep into Ward's shoulder, weeping in defeat but at the same time finding solace that his best friend was there to help him weather the storm. Ward knew inherently at that moment the pain that Gatti was suffering better than any other man in the world. The two men embraced, sharing a terrible moment they both knew too well.
In many ways, Ward, who was once Gatti's most vicious and strong-willed opponent in the ring, has become Gatti's voice and strongest advocate, now that Gatti is gone. There is no one better suited for the job, given the 30 ferocious rounds they spent in the ring together trying to decapitate each other. Together, Gatti and Ward entertained millions of fans worldwide with a once in a lifetime display of beautiful savagery seldom seen before in a boxing ring and certainly not seen since their trilogy ended with a resounding bang.
One can only imagine that the news of Gatti's election to the IBHOF must have been delivered to Arturo in a blood-spattered envelope on bruised and battered angel's wings. The clap of thunder heard around the world was no doubt Gatti's magnanimous acceptance of this honor. Gatti will enter the Hall with fellow fighters Virgil Hill and Myung-Woo Yuh. Also joining Gatti as fellow inductees are referee Mills Lane, ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr, manager Arturo "Cuyo" Hernandez as well as boxing scribe Colin Hart. There are those boxing scribes and fans that do not agree with Gatti's induction into the Hall of Fame. They are at best a vocal minority.
In professional boxing, once a fighter has been inducted into the Hall of Fame, the time for doubting his ring accomplishments is supposedly over. Certainly, each induction will always be met with some scrutiny during the vetting process but once the process is over, it is time to get behind all of the inductees as it is in the best interests of boxing. Now, some uninformed Gatti critics believe Gatti's induction should have been denied because he lost to some supposedly run of the mill fighters, such as Ivan Robinson (twice) and Angel Manfredy.
As far as arguments go that is pretty much a non-starter. Why? Because fighters are elected to the Hall of Fame based on the fighters they have defeated rather than denied entry because of the fighters they lost to. The BWAA looks at the entire career of each possible candidate. Also, Manfredy was a world champion in his own right and although Robinson never won a world title he was a very skilled technician who gave many great fighters a very tough time.
To deny any fighter induction into the ultra prestigious IBHOF simply because they lost to a certain fighter is a very myopic and limiting way of judging the worth of all Hall candidates. The other part of this argument is the canard, "Well, who did he beat?" Just because one or two self appointed experts believe that the fighters whom Gatti beat to win his titles were not up to some personally biased standard of their own creation is no reason at all to deny him entry into the IBHOF.
Sugar Ray Robinson, acclaimed as the best fighter pound for pound ever to have lived, lost to Tiger Jack Fox in a comeback fight. Who? Exactly. As a boxing writer and historian, I am well aware of the ring career of Tiger Jack Fox. Your average fight fans would not recognize his name. Is that any reason to deny the illustrious Sugar Man entry into the Hall of Fame? Of course not! The simple, time-honored standard for pro boxing is that you can only beat whoever is around in your era. It is not Gatti's fault that he never faced Roberto Duran or Juan Manuel Marquez. You can only fight who is available during your career.
How many fight fans know whom Johnny Paycheck was? Or Nathan Mann or Arturo Godoy? They were all members of Joe Louis's Bum Of The Month club. They weren't exceptionally skilled but they were the best of a pretty bad lot. Is that any reason to deny Joe Louis entry into the Hall of Fame?
Perhaps Gatti's sudden and violent death in 2009, may have hastened the BWAA to speed up his induction into the IBHOF. This also has no basis in reason because fighters become eligible 5 years after the have last fought. In other words, it was simply Gatti's time to be considered. The fact that he is not here to enjoy this personal and professional moment of triumph is bittersweet for his family, friends and his many fans.
Gatti was very close with his former Canadian national team teammate Egerton Marcus, an outstanding boxer in his own right. Marcus looked out for Gatti as if he were a younger brother. Marcus fondly remembers Gatti's generosity, kindness and love of life. Marcus recalls that when both were traveling to tournaments all over the world on Canada's national team, they always had a lot of fun and, "Arturo made sure everyone from each country had a great time." Marcus remembers one specific time when he walked into a huge party room at a hotel after a major tournament in Quebec, only to find hundreds of people in a circle laughing and smiling. When he got to the center of the circle, there was Gatti making everyone laugh, exchanging phone numbers and having a great time.
As Marcus said, "every fighter from every country in the tournament was crowded around Arturo and they were all laughing and hugging him and asking him for his number and making plans to meet him later and hang out. That was Arturo. He was the party. He was the good time everyone was having. Everyone would leave and all they would talk about was Arturo. He had charisma to spare. I miss him a lot. He was like my kid brother."
In truth, there is no valid argument against Gatti's induction into the Hall. He was a two-time world champion and an incredibly exciting fighter. In fact his nickname was, "The Human Highlight Reel." In the vernacular of boxing, Gatti put asses in the seats and that is what the sport is essentially all about. Gatti appeared a record 21 times on HBO Sports. Each of his fights set new PPV records. In fact, during his time, Gatti was the only non-heavyweight fighter in the world drawing PPV numbers equal to and, in some cases, superior to Mike Tyson. In boxing, titles are great but money is what really counts.
Gatti's fights were extraordinarily exciting and brought millions of new fans into boxing. Men loved Gatti because they wanted to be him and women loved him because they wanted to be with him. Gatti was irresistible to both sexes and to HBO executives (and advertisers) who made fortunes putting him on their network countless times.
More than any fighter since Carmen Basilio, Gatti personified the blood and guts mentality and image of a true Roman gladiator. Gatti entered the ring to do business. He was in there to destroy any man put in front of him and more often than not, he was highly successful in his quest. Any fighter such as Gatti that possessed one-punch knockout power in both hands is a man to be respected and feared both in and out of the ring.
It is astounding to consider that early on in his professional career, Gatti was viewed strictly as a technical boxer who could punch on occasion, if the situation called for it. Some of today's current fighters share a kindred spirit with Gatti. New York based welterweight Tommy Rainone looks up to Gatti as an inspirational role model for all fighters. "You're talking about a world-class fighter that won 2 world titles in 2 different weight divisions, eight years apart. That means he kept his power as he rose in weight. He was written off at the age of 26 but revamped his career to fight on successfully until he was 35, which is pretty remarkable. He inspired me and many other fighters. To inspire a pro athlete is about the best thing you can do for them."
Gatti's induction into the Hall of Fame is the crowning achievement of his illustrious career. Gatti', "The Human Highlight Reel," still continues to inspire many people around the world today. Gatti becomes only the ninth Canadian boxer ever to enter the IBHOF. His legacy and ring accomplishments will be enshrined their forever. This will no doubt allow his legions of fans to remember him for what he was – a dominant and exciting world champion, rather than how he left us.