Every era has its most exciting fighter. He's almost never the best fighter out there, because great doesn't necessarily mean exciting. But there's always one or two that stand out. In the 1940s it was Rocky Graziano. After him came Rocky Marciano. Later there was Ruben Olivares and after him Danny Lopez, and then Matthew Saad Muhammad and Ray Mancini. For the last 10 years or so, we have had Arturo Gatti, who has been as thrilling as any of them. We can't think of another fighter who has given more of himself during a long and thrilling career than he has. Gatti has been in so many gripping, bloody, back-from-the brink wars that it's hard to keep track of them all. But we try. Here, presented in chronological order, are Arturo Gatti's greatest hits.
KO 6 Wilson Rodriguez
Date: March 23, 1996
Division: IBF Junior Lightweight Title
Site: Madison Square Garden Theater, New York, New York
Before: This is seen largely as a "gimme" for Gatti, who is making his first defense of the title he won in a cautious, mostly cerebral decision win over Tracy Harris Patterson. Rodriguez, a Dominican who has fought mostly in his homeland and in Spain, has never appeared in the United States. The only recognizable name on his record is that of John-John Molina, a former 130-pound champion who probably is best remembered for the late-1980s rivalry he engaged with the popular Tony "The Tiger" Lopez. Molina and Rodriguez met in Puerto Rico in November 1994 for Molina's IBF junior lightweight title, with Molina scoring a 10th-round knockout. Most expect Gatti to duplicate Molina's accomplishment, probably in fewer rounds.
During: Rodriguez, 44-7-3 (25), proves surprisingly skilled and rugged, easily tagging Gatti with jabs and sharp right hands. Midway through the first round the tissue around Gatti's eyes starts to swell, and in the second he's badly hurt and floored by a combination. In the fourth, Gatti, 24-1 (20), is battered around the ring and referee Wayne Kelly nearly stops it. Near the end of the round he stages a desperate rally and traps Rodriguez in a corner. Gatti, with both eyes swollen nearly closed, floors Rodriguez with a hook to the body in the fifth. In the sixth he drops a quickly fading Rodriguez with a left hook to the chin, sending the crowd of roughly 5,000 into delirium. Time of the knockout is 2:16.
After: The sentiments of a stunned and incredulous HBO broadcast team are summed up by Larry Merchant, who asks, "Can you believe Arturo Gatti?" The drama and brutality of the bout make Gatti an instant star and results in an HBO contract, but also has an unintended effect: it establishes him as a one-dimensional, bloody, two-fisted warrior rather than the intelligent, restrained boxer he'd appeared against Patterson and others. In future bouts he'd rely solely on his chin and power, and suffer because of it.
KO 5 Gabe Ruelas
Date: October 4, 1997
Division: IBF Junior Lightweight Title
Site: Caesars Hotel & Casino, Atlantic City, New Jersey
Before: Most of the talk involves Ruelas, once a promising young champion who has not been the same since he killed Jimmy Garcia in a WBC junior lightweight title defense in May 1995. Azumah Nelson destroyed Ruelas in Ruelas' first bout after the Garcia fight, and the match against Gatti is Ruelas' first big one since. In wins over second-raters Julio Cesar Herrera, Angelo Nunez and James Crayton, Ruelas was less than impressive. Still, most observers are happy to see him get a big fight against Gatti, who is coming off non-title wins over Feliciano Correa and Calvin Grove, and a title defense against former champion Tracy Harris Patterson.
During: Fighting aggressively, Ruelas, 44-3 (23), goes right to Gatti and works his body with hooks from both sides. Gatti responds in kind and the slugfest is on. Gatti, 27-1 (23), rattles Ruelas with a left hook in the second, which draws a reaction from the crowd. The two exchange heavy blows in the fourth until a searing hook by Ruelas buckles Gatti's knees, nearly sending him to the canvas. Gatti recovers just before the end of the round, but is hurt again at the start of the fifth. Just as Ruelas appears to be taking over, Gatti lands a crunching left hook that drops the challenger. Ruelas struggles to his feet by the count of eight, but referee Benji Estevez stops the fight. The time is 2:22.
After: "I knew the fight was going to very hard, it could have gone either way," Gatti said. "He took a lot out of me at the beginning." Though at first he disagrees with the referee's decision, Ruelas concedes, "Maybe it was best for the referee to stop it. I hope he keeps the title for awhile, he's a great fighter." The fight was so riveting and action-packed it is named Fight of the Year by The Ring magazine and further establishes Gatti as the most exciting fighter in the sport.
L 10 Ivan Robinson
Date: August 22, 1998
Site: Convention Hall, Atlantic City, New Jersey
Before: Many in the press believe all the tough fights have caught up with Gatti, and point to his loss last time out to Angel Manfredy as evidence. Manfredy floored Gatti, cut him badly and stopped him in the eighth round. Robinson is seen as a fairly safe comeback opponent; the Philadelphia native has never beaten an upper-tier opponent, having lost a decision to Philip Holiday in a title shot in December 1996, and to top contender Israel "Pito" Cardona, who destroyed him in three rounds in July 1997. Moreover, he's not a big puncher, having stopped just 10 opponents in 25 wins. Gatti is a prohibitive favorite.
During: Robinson, 25-2 (10), starts quickly in the first round, pummeling Gatti with rapid-fire combinations for which Gatti seems unprepared. Before the round is over Gatti's left eye begins to swell, but he launches a body attack that has the crowd roaring. Over the next several rounds Gatti works Robinson's body while Robinson out-maneuvers and out-speeds him on the inside. In the fourth Gatti scores a knockdown, but by the fight's midway point a pattern is established: Gatti lands to the body and with single punches to head, while Robinson lands four-and five-punch combinations almost at will. In a sensational sixth round, both fighters are hurt and staggered but somehow remain upright. Gatti's face swells hideously down the stretch but he manages to stagger Robinson in the 10th. The crowd gives the fighters a long ovation before the decision is announced: 98-93, 96-94 and 93-96 for Robinson.
After: "I knew that Gatti is a slow starter and I know he comes on in the later rounds," Robinson said. "I know I'm not a knockout puncher, so I had to build up the points." Gatti, suffering his second consecutive loss, laments bad strategy. "I tried my best but I came on too late in the fight," he said. No matter. The Ring selects it as Fight of the Year and also Upset of the Year. It is clear that Gatti doesn't necessarily need to win to remain one of the sport's bigger attractions. The fight was close enough to keep him in the mix at 135 pounds and exciting enough to sustain his burgeoning popularity.
L 10 Micky Ward
Date: May 18, 2002
Division: Junior Welterweight
Site: Mohegan Sun Casino, Uncasville, Connecticut
Before: The question is how long will it be before Gatti stops boxing and stands toe-to-toe? Most don't expect it to be long. Still, Gatti is favored. Though just two fights removed from his disaster against Oscar De La Hoya, his last win was a blowout of former titlist Terron Millett. There is a positive feeling about Gatti's relationship with new trainer Buddy McGirt, whom many believe will be able to convince Gatti to box and move when others haven't. A lukewarm prefight buildup turns mildly sinister when Gatti tells the press Ward doesn't belong in the ring with him. Many agree despite Ward's recent run, which includes wins over Jesse James Leija, Emanuel Augustus, and Reggie Green. It's noteworthy that Gatti won't be the crowd favorite: the venue is much closer to Ward's home state of Massachusetts than it is to Gatti's beloved Atlantic City.
During: Before the first round is half over, a Gatti left hook opens a cut over Ward's right eye. Gatti, 34-5 (28), boxes smartly over the first three rounds, moving, jabbing, and occasionally stopping to bang Ward with combinations. Ward, 37-11 (27) finally gets home one of his vaunted left hooks to the body at the end of the third and Gatti grimaces and fires back. Ward shakes Gatti with a right in the fourth, and in a move that would prove critical later, referee Frank Cappuccino penalizes Gatti a point for a low blow. Gatti takes the next several rounds by boxing again, but Ward explodes in the eighth. The ninth is a wild, seesaw, historic round; Ward floors Gatti with a hook to the liver, nearly ending the fight. Gatti batters Ward upon rising, only to be hammered again at the end of the round. They trade rounds, and punishment, down the stretch. The majority decision, by scores of 94-93, 95-93, and 94-94, go to Ward.
After: The fighters praise one another. Ward says, "He has to prove nothin' to no one. He's proven over the years what he can do. It was a close fight; it could have gone either way. You can't take nothing away from Arturo, he's like a rock; he's like granite." Gatti responds, "I hit him with some good shots but he kept getting stronger every round. It was a close fight; it could have gone either way." Everyone agrees. The Ring calls it 2002's Fight of the Year and round nine the Round of the Year.
W 10 Micky Ward
Date: June 7, 2003
Division: Junior Welterweight
Site: Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City, New Jersey
Before: Like most memorable trilogies, the first fight was remarkable, the second slightly anti-climactic -- what would the third bring? All questions concern, again, whether Gatti can resist the temptation to stand and slug with Ward, a move that cost him dearly in the first fight. If he could move and box again, as he did in the rematch, victory will likely be his, his superiority over Ward established the way Ali's had been over Frazier, as Zale's had over Graziano. As always, talk involves too the possibility that Gatti has been in too many rough wars that will catch up to him eventually, and this could be the night. Still he is favored to win, based mostly on the boxing lesson he gave Ward in the rematch in November of 2002.
During: Gatti, 35-6 (28) starts quickly, jabbing Ward, throwing right hands and moving to his left to avoid Ward's hook to the body. Faster and more active, he stings Ward throughout the early rounds and by the third has Ward's nose bleeding and his face reddened. Ward, 38-12 (27), can't get set to punch and appears slow. Things are going Gatti's way until the fourth round when he hits Ward on the hip with a right and then jumps back in pain. Ward sees his opportunity and opens up, pummeling Gatti, who, after a spell, returns fire. The 12,643 in attendance go wild. A right from Ward drops Gatti in the sixth, and the two trade heavy leather over the last four rounds, with Gatti doing the better, more consistent work. The unanimous decision goes Gatti's way by scores of 97-92 and 96-93 (twice).
After: "He caught me with a good shots early and it stung me," Ward said. "It threw my equilibrium off or something. He fought a great fight, he hurt me early, not really bad but just enough to get me a little dizzy." I couldn't get on track after that. He fought a great fight, he fought his fight and I tip my hat to him." Gatti was equally gracious. "I knew he was coming in tonight to fight the best fight of his life and if it would have been anyone else he would have quit," Gatti said. "He hurt me in the third, fourth round. I hurt my hand in the fourth. Mickey Ward is unbelievable; he's got heart."
So too does Arturo Gatti.
The fighters praise one another. Ward says, "He has to prove nothin' to no one. He's proven over the years what he can do. It was a close fight; it could have gone either way. You can't take nothing away from Arturo, he's like a rock; he's like granite."
HBO WCB - Jul. 14, 2007
Gatti vs Gomez
Cintron vs Matthysse