Monday, July 13, 2009

Arturo Gatti: Death Of A Charismatic Champion

I guess it's fitting that I'd be listening to Tom Petty songs at the moment, as they all pretty much seem to be about inevitability. Despite having been born in Italy and raised in Montréal (where he also settled after his boxing career), Arturo 'Thunder' Gatti's life was just like one of Petty's songs about All-American characters: the tough start of a rough childhood, hanging with the wrong crowd that still gave him his best shot at doing something with his life, his ascent of the higher stratospheres of the work he chose, the fall, the comeback, retirement, and death. And each step of the way, both good and bad things happening at once, usually from the same source.

Growing up, Gatti hung around the gym where Dave Hilton Sr. was training his three sons and quickly became the de-facto fourth wheel of the family. Just to have survived hanging around the Hiltons is almost a miracle in itself; tremendous fighters and sportsmen, all three brothers were boxing champions, yet all also had trouble living a violence-free life outside the ring, each spending as much time in prison as in the outside world.

Gatti got close enough that his sister even married Dave Hilton Jr., the most talented of the three, but also the most violent; while his brothers Matthew and Alex are usually caught holding up corner stores or fighting in bars or violating parole agreements, ''Davey'' was found guilty of assaulting his wife, and sexually assaulting his own daughters.

Gatti, apparently, was no angel himself in real life; there have been reports of domestic abuse, but never any convictions. But, compared to the Hiltons, he's as clean as you and I.

Professionally, he's also a ''movie of the week'' type of character. From 1992 to 1995, he won most of his fights, displaying some of the unique character traits that would eventually make him a beloved sports figure and, eventually, a legend. And as 1995 would come to a close, he would be crowned Champion for the first time.

1996 saw him defend his title successfully at Madison Square Garden, of all places, in a nationally televised fight that saw him hit the floor and start bleeding early on. Yet he sucked it up and won in 6 rounds in what was a finalist for Fight Of The Year, according to Ring Magazine - the first of three consecutive times one of his fights would make the list, a rare feat. It was also a come-from-behind victory that got people calling him 'Raging Bull', after the late Jake LaMotta.

1997 was more of the same, and it must have gotten boring to Gatti to keep winning despite bleeding his heart out at every fight, because he decided to relinquish his title and change weight categories. Sure, his fights were still crowned 'Fight Of The Year', but now he was on the losing end.

By 1999, he was on the rise again, the apex of which may have been the three matches against 'Irish' Micky Ward. They did split the first couple of matches, but the third one was epic. I'll let Wikipedia describe it for you:
On June 7, 2003, he and Ward had a rubber match. Gatti broke his twice-repaired right hand on an uppercut to the hip in the fourth, and he dropped his arm, wincing in pain. He fought nearly one-handed for several rounds afterward, using his right sparingly. In the sixth, Gatti dominated the round but got caught with an overhand right to the top of the head a second before the bell rang and went down. Gatti then recovered again and was never in trouble after that. The final scorecards read, 96–93 (twice), and 97–92, in favor of Gatti. The third fight between the two was again named "Fight Of The Year" by Ring Magazine.
And by 2004, he was Champion again. He never gave up, probably didn't know how to. But his reign wasn't all that long. He lost to Floyd Mayweather Jr., generally regarded as the best pound-for-pound fighter of his generation and was never the same again. He then lost to no-name boxers before calling it quits.

You'd think, at 37, after spending most of his life getting hit by others but hitting back even harder, married to a girl 14 years younger with a young child, he'd be good to go, able to enjoy life. You'd wish it upon him.

But those who live by the sword die by the sword. He was found dead this morning, in Brazil, strangled, apparently by his wife. He was weeks away from attending his sister's wedding. Yep, Hilton's ex has found someone else worth spending the rest of her life with, but her marriage will always be linked with the unnecessary death of Arturo Gatti, and that's the one fight he won't be getting up from.


dan burke said...

The funeral was a classic, another Arturo victory, a defiance of defeat.
Hundreds of people and many from afar, thus crowning one of the greatest stories of triumph and tragedy in a city that's seen more than its share of dramatic ups and downs.
Lives in the boxing world so often go wrong. Yet except for his ending, Arturo transcended that, not only with courage and determination, but with the support of others: his family, the boxing people in Jersey who adopted and developed him, the fans who loved him, win or lose.
Boxing, which brings out the worst in some, brought out the best in Arturo and, in return, he inspired the better of others, the virtues of love, loyalty and hope that our world so badly needs.
And, though that all may seem overblown to some, I believe every word of it. And afte reading your blog several days ago, I thought you might, too.
All the best -- and let's hope the Gattis get to bring Arturo Jr. home, too

Sébastian Hell said...

You know, Dan, we haven't met - you've been in Toronto for years now and I haven't played there in nearly a decade - but from what I've read of you (and seen on YouTube clips), you're of the same blend as Arturo: you wear it all on your sleeve, the good, the bad, and at the end of the day, you just might be making the world a better place and inspiring others.

The way you stand up for your friends, promote the Zoobombs, keep the T.O. scene rolling - the end result of your work is something to look up to, definitely, as is the amount of work you put into getting there.

I don't get many replies to my texts, but this one was fitting - and heartfelt. Thanks.

And, yeah, let's hope Arturo Jr makes it back home too, where there are tons of people ready to help steer him on the right path out of respect for his dad.