The International Boxing Hall of Fame took a positive step today, declaring that greatness doesn't just mean wins and losses.
By selecting Arturo "Thunder" Gatti for enshrinement in the Hall, members of the selection committee have shown an appreciation for many of the characteristics that get lost in today's flashy, me-first era of the sport.
Namely—guts, bravery and a willingness to face any opponent, no matter the odds.
When you look at the record of Arturo Gatti, nothing especially impressive jumps out.
But for a career and a life, that was cut tragically short, it was never about wins and losses, or even world championships.
It was about individual moments and about growing up with the sport at a time when everybody could identify at least one Arturo Gatti story.
For some, it was his victory in 1996 over Wilson Rodriguez. In the fight, Gatti was knocked down in the second round, and as would soon become his trademark, both eyes were rapidly swelling shut.
Gatti would come back to knock Rodriguez down in the fifth round and end his night in the sixth.
Or it could be his fight in 1997 with Gabriel Ruelas. In the fourth round of that bout, Gatti was hurt by a crushing uppercut and swallowed no less than 15 unanswered punches before the bell mercifully saved him.
If the fight had been stopped right then and there, nobody would've been able to complain, not the least of which being Gatti himself.
How did Gatti respond to the hellacious beating? He knocked Ruelas out in the very next round.
For most people, their Gatti moment probably came somewhere in his three-fight series with fellow tough-guy "Irish" Mickey Ward.
So much has been said about those bouts and nothing more can be said that will do them justice.
The point is that everybody who paid attention to boxing in the mid-to-late 1990s has an Arturo Gatti story.
And all of those stories have a common theme—courage.
Without taking it in the proper context, there is absolutely nothing spectacular or even impressive about Gatti's resume.
He fought 49 times, winning 40 of those bouts, losing nine and scoring 31 knockouts. He won two world championships, at super featherweight and junior welterweight, and beat many solid but unspectacular fighters.
On the occasions he did step up to face elite challenges, he was easily dominated by Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Oscar De La Hoya.
But like everything else in his life and boxing career—numbers don't tell the true story.
Gatti was boxing's ultimate blood and guts warrior. He was brave, often too brave, and accomplished great things that exceeded his talent level.
Most nights, he would go into the ring and leave bloody, bruised and swollen. And more often than not, those were the fights he won.
Particularly in Atlantic City, his fights began to take on the aura of something bigger. They were events and people tuned in to see a fighter who might be outclassed, but who would never quit.
A fighter who would gladly swallow five, 10, 15 punches just to land one of his own.
You tuned in to see a man who four times in his career participated in a bout labeled by The Ring Magazine as fight of the year.
You tuned in to see a fighter who could overcome talent gaps with his opponents through sheer bravery and force of will.
And more important than any of that and any accomplishment in a boxing ring—you tuned in to see Arturo Gatti fight because you cared about him.
As boxing fans, we come to understand the double-edged nature of the sport.
People buy pay-per-view, and tune in to HBO or Showtime to see great fights and spectacular knockouts.
But always in the back of our minds, and this point was brought home this past weekend when Manny Pacquiao was left unconscious by a Juan Manuel Marquez right-hand, is the risk.
The same punch that makes you rise out of your seat, or off your couch, can end more than a career—it can end a life.
That sense is always there for the true boxing fan, and it was heightened every time Arturo Gatti stepped into the ring.
He always seemed like the type of fighter who would be willing to go out on his sword and do anything to win a fight. And this is what helped him to define an era of boxing for many people.
He was never dominant like Floyd Mayweather, utilizing defensive brilliance and speed to make elite fighters look ordinary.
He was never Manny Pacquiao, jumping weight divisions and beating elite fighters with ease.
All he was is Arturo Gatti. One of the bravest men to ever step foot in a boxing ring.
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