Thunderstruck: A Personal Remembrance of Arturo "Thunder" Gatti

Michael Ielpi@ielpiCorrespondent IJuly 13, 2009

JERSEY CITY, NJ - AUGUST 9:  Boxer Arturo Gatti poses during a photo shoot at the World Boxing and Fitness Center in Jersey City, New Jersey on August 9, 2006.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Thunderstruck. Webster’s defines the word thunderstruck as an adjective meaning to be overcome with consternation; confounded; astounded.

For fans of Arturo “Thunder” Gatti and for boxing fans around the world the feeling of hearing Arturo Gatti dead at the age of 37 leaves us thunderstruck.

“Thunderstruck” was also an AC-DC song that Arturo Gatti would use sometimes before his fights in Atlantic City. 

Arturo Gatti was born in Italy, raised in Montreal, and fought out of Jersey City, NJ. So, to say his fan base was all over the world would not be much of an understatement. 

Gatti’s career has two parts. First, is his rise in the mid-1990s winning the IBF Super Featherweight title where he would become champion by beating Tracy Patterson, the adopted son of former heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson.

He would successfully defend his title three times. Gatti would move up to lightweight and his legend would continue to grow.

As a lightweight, Gatti lost to Angel Manfredy via TKO in round eight, but it would be his first fight with Ivan Robinson that fans began to notice that the word “Warrior” was not just a tattoo on Gatti’s stomach, but a true testament to which this fighter was.

Gatti knocked down Robinson in the fourth round, but Robinson won a split decision in what was Ring Magazine’s Fight of the Year in 1998. They would meet four months later in a rematch where Robinson won a unanimous decision.

Gatti would move up to welterweight by the year 2000. He would run off four straight victories and score a fight with Oscar De La Hoya in 2001 in a non-title fight. De La Hoya would score a fifth round TKO and most experts thought Gatti’s chances a seeing a title were gone.

Part two of Gatti’s career begins with a bout with a fight with long-time veteran light welterweight Micky Ward. If Gatti lost this fight his chances of getting a big-money fight again would be very slim, if he won, few would likely remember it and Gatti would try to climb back up the welterweight ladder.

What happened that May 2002 night at Mohegan Sun was epic. Gatti and Ward battled toe-to-toe trading punches the whole 30 minutes. Ward would win a majority decision by a point. The fans knew one thing, we wanted more and we wanted to see these two again. This would be the “Fight of the Year” in many boxing polls.

Gatti and Ward fought six months later, with Gatti winning convincingly, but the fight was still good enough and the fans still wanted to see a rubber match.

Here is where my personal story with Arturo Gatti truly begins.

I have never seen any concert act four times. I never went to the movies four times to see the same film. But I was fortunate enough to see Arturo Gatti fight live four times. 

My best friend and I have been to Atlantic City probably 20 times or more together. We never stepped foot into the famed Boardwalk Hall where Miss America was for over 80 years until she left the Boardwalk for Vegas, like most of boxing did after 1990.

But Gatti single-handedly was the man who brought boxing glory back to the Boardwalk Hall.

Even when Gatti was defeated he gave you that effort that you still feel like you got your money’s worth.

The Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City is a great place to see a fight. We never knew this until we saw Arturo Gatti raise the roof on the place time after time. My best friend and I knew when Gatti was going to fight in Atlantic City we needed to head down there for the weekend.

The first time we saw Arturo Gatti live it was, June 7, 2003, at the Boardwalk Hall for the completion of the Gatti-Ward trilogy.

What a show these two warriors put on for the sell-out crowd. You had the fans who came down from New England chanting, “Micky, Micky”, and the New Jersey fans chanting “Gatti, Gatti”, whenever either fighter would gain an advantage the crowd will yell his name.

Rare in any sport is it to find two individuals or teams so evenly matched that you need to see them play again in order to really say who might be just a hair better than the other.

In boxing, when it happens it gets put on the highest of pedestals.

Unlike that more famous trilogy, Gatti and Ward did not hate each other for the rest of their lives. Actually, they became close friends. Micky Ward would be in Gatti’s corner many times over the last few years. Ward would become Gatti’s primary trainer in 2006. 

There was hardly a fight in his career where Gatti’s face was clean and his eyes were not puffy.

Arturo Gatti will never make any list of pugilistic experts; he just had something that you thought only existed in the movies.

More skilled fighters wished that they had the chin and the heart that Gatti had. You could knock Gatti down but rarely could you knock him out. He had five losses by way of technical knockout, but none of the traditional 10-count knockout.

He was the type of fighter that would live by the style of taking two or three punches to land one. He would just keep moving forward and not care about the punishment that his body was taking. It was common to see him break his right hand during fights and beat someone left-handed.

You would sit in the stands awe-struck that a man could lose his primary punching hand, continue to hit and get hit, but somehow find the strength to win the fight.

Gatti won many fights but more importantly he won over the hearts of the fans. At the end of the day, that is what matters most to a fan.

Boxing was relevant in Atlantic City once again. The main dressing room at the Boardwalk Hall was named after Arturo Gatti a few years back. They could have named the Boardwalk Hall after him and no one would have complained.

Gatti brought the building back to prominence and even got the best pound-for-pound fighter, Floyd Mayweather to come to Atlantic City.

Mayweather won the fight, but Gatti still had the fans after taking a great deal of punishment from the undefeated world champion.

I would be in Atlantic City, for Gatti’s last victory an eleven round TKO of Thomas Damgaard. The crowd would erupt as the referee stopped the fight and Gatti was the victor.

We would also be there for Gatti’s last title shot. This would be for the WBC welterweight title against Carlos Baldomir. Baldomir’s strong hands would win him a ninth round TKO.

There were rumors of Gatti coming back to fight. I was hoping he would stay retired. I was at Gatti’s final fight against Alfonso Gomez, a journeyman boxer from the reality show The Contender. Gatti was overmatched and any chance of Gatti being relevant in boxing was all but over.

He will always have the heart of a champion, but his powers were fading faster than low tide on the Steel Pier.

Gatti’s career was finished, but his legacy was very much in tact. He would be remembered as a warrior in a time when that word was being used for other sports.

In the end, Arturo Gatti never had the love outside the ring that he had when he was inside the ring. 

The reports are saying that it was Gatti’s wife who strangled him with her purse in their condominium in Brazil. Sadly, his life is over and her life may be spent in prison and their one-year child will never really know either parent.

The Boardwalk has lost its champion and my best friend and I will always comeback to see fights at the great hall and remember it forever as Arturo’s house. Today we are thunderstruck by the news. Three lives were completely destroyed on Saturday.

Micky Ward may have said it best, “You fight a guy, you go to war with them, and there is a respect there. But with me and Arturo, it was greater,” Ward told “There was a real bond between us.

It’s why hearing this, hearing what happened to Arturo is like a piece of you is gone, because we shared so much of everything in the ring. We were friends, close friends.”

Most of us will never get to experience in the ring what Gatti and Ward did three times. We will never know what it is like for someone to be an equal in sport. But, we do feel a similar void in our lives.

I just know it is highly unlikely that my best friend will never see the same fighter four times live again. But, every fight we attend together will be because of the excitement Arturo Gatti gave us. We can only hope to feel that way once again on a Saturday night in Atlantic City.

Personally, I have always felt that the ringing 10 count of the bell is the greatest tribute in sports when someone relevant in that sport has passed.

For one of the few times in his life, the count will reach 10 and Gatti will not rise from the canvas.


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