The circumstances are mysterious, but numerous news outlets have now reported the sad, sad news that Arturo Gatti, one of the most exciting fighters of all time, is dead at 37. His body was found in Brazil.
Gatti, who fought from featherweight to welterweight between 1991 and 2007, wasn’t an all-time great like Alexis Arguello, the other boxer whose life ended this month. When he stepped up in class, as against Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather, Jr., he got shellacked. But against opponents short of the world-class level, he was at least even money. (People forget, I think, that a fair number of boxing scribes picked Gatti to beat Mayweather. It was crazy, but it came from a place of Gatti being pretty good, with a helping of wishful thinking because of how beloved Gatti was.)
What mattered more than whether Gatti won or lost, though, is that you knew you were going to get a show. Every. Time. Gatti was as tough, nearly, as humans get. Nobody fought through more blood streaming down his face, through more swollen eyes, through more broken hands. Nobody took the kind of punishment Gatti took in fights and was as much of a threat to come back and win by knockout. Gatti was in three four Ring magazine Fights of the Year, and he was in plenty of other contenders for that title.
It’s therefore fitting that the moment in Gatti’s career that stands out most to me comes in a fight he lost. His wars with Micky Ward constitute one of the finest trilogies ever. Check out the way he rallies below in the 9th round where the fight should probably have been stopped to give Ward a TKO. “Oh my God,” says HBO’s Emmanuel Steward. “You know, you dream of fights like this, but very seldom do they live up to the expectations. This is even more than you can dream of.” And I dream about fighters like Gatti populating the sport. You feel like you know them, because of how much they put their soul on display in the ring. Rest in peace, old friend.