March 23, 2012

Friday Night Fight Flashback: Arturo Gatti vs Wilson Rodriguez

Flashback to March Mayhem!

"THE ONLY THING CERTAIN IN THIS WORLD IS DEATH AND TAXES" ... This quote made famous by Ben Franklin has been around for decades, proving his point a valid one. However, if he was born in this century, Ben may have altered the quote and added Arturo Gatti as a third certainty. You were almost guaranteed action, blood, guts, and brutality in every fight involving the fighter. Arturo "Thunder" Gatti first hit the fight scene back in 1991. At just the age of 19, the kid was already playing a man's game. He was a member of the Canadian National Team back then, and instead of representing Canada in the 1992 Summer Games, he chose not to wait and turned pro.  In boxing, this is not an uncommon story. In fact, it happens all the time. What made his story interesting is he was an Italian Canadian who relocated to the United States, and now resided in Jersey City. There he picked up a huge following as he racked up the wins. Forget the reality television series "Jersey Shore," - it was Arturo who first put Jersey on the map. Plus he had a huge Italian following, as well as the Canadians adopting him. Gatti was great for the TV ratings. He quickly flew through the ranks picking up a regional title in 1994, beating Pete Taliaferro for the USBA Super Featherweight title, with a first round KO.

In less than a year, after just two defenses of the belt, he took on Floyd Patterson's adoptive son, Tracy Harris Patterson, for the IBF Super Featherweight championship. Gatti won a close unanimous decision. HBO saw this as a a great opportunity, and they signed him up to a muti-fight deal. It looked like everything was going just fine in Arturo's world. He was a young good looking world champion, he had women throwing themselves at him, and thanks to his deal with HBO, plenty of cash. As a fighter, he was living the dream. What could possibly go wrong? Well, for starters, a tough and experienced veteran fighter from the Dominican Republic, who may have believed this was his last chance at winning a world title, fighting in front of millions of viewers. Wilson "Black Label" Rodriguez was selected as Gatti's first title defense on HBO, and the plan was to impress and move on to bigger pay days. Wilson had plans of his own.

The fight took place at the Madison Square Garden Theater on March 23, 1996. The fight was billed "MARCH MAYHEM" and even the undercard was impressive. In the co-feature of the night, Orlando Canizales, already a legend at bantamweight, took on the tall and lanky Junior Jones at a higher weight class and lost a very close decision. Junior's chin and stamina failed him in some of his other major bouts, and he made it his business not to get it tested this night. Nevertheless, it was an entertaining fight, as Orlando pressed the action, and there were some moments were it looked like "Poison" wouldn't make it to the finish line. Both fighters were applauded as they left the ring. The fight fans were now primed and ready for the main event. Wilson Rodriguez entered the ring first wearing yellow and black. His record is an impressive 43-7 w/ 24 KOs. The champion is next, and the crowd applauds as Gatti is introduced. He is in white and blue, and his record, an almost perfect 24-1 w/ 20 KOs. The late Wayne Kelly gets the call as referee. Michael Buffer does his trademark "Let's get ready to rumble," - and the fight is underway!

Let's get ready to rumble!
The bell rings for round one, and Gatti circles left with a high guard and jabs to both head and body, and fires a straight right hand to the head. He throws an occasional hook. Rodriguez is content for now to just circle and jab. Gatti shoots a hard right to the body, and Rodriguez is trying to time Gatti with his own right. Rodriguez continues to circle and double up on the jab. His hook is starting to land, and he continues to circle away from Gatti's heavy left hook. Gatti is having a hard time trapping Rodriguez as he continues to follow him around, instead of cutting the ring off. Rodriguez lands a straight right, followed by a left hook. The fight is barely two minutes old and Arturo's left eye is already starting to swell. Rodriguez is boxing beautiful and Harold Merchant notes, "Rodriguez is getting more bold, and landing straighter punches." At the bell, Gatti returns to his corner blinking. I can actually remember telling the guy next to me, no way this fight goes another two rounds. In the corner, Gatti is told by team Duva to stay low and move his head. In Wilson's corner, they note Gatti's eye is already an issue, and tell him to throw more left hands. Gatti comes out for the second round using head movement and stays low, just as his corner advised. He is shooting straight right hands and left hooks to the body. Rodriguez continues to use all of the ring, sliding along the ropes and snapping the jab into Gatti's eye. Gatti lands a good left hook to the head. Rodriguez decides to trade, and is now throwing in combination. He lands a right hand and left hook to the head of Gatti. Rodriguez is now dancing on his toes using the ring to inflict more damage.

Gatti now has a mouse under his right eye.

It looks pretty bad for the young champion, and Larry Merchant notes, "Gatti is in real trouble unless he can turn it around." Gatti is blinking and both his eyes are swelling at an alarmingly fast rate. Gatti lands a good left hook and Rodriguez is in the corner with his back near the ropes. He lands a right cross, a short left hook, and another right cross, and the audience gasps as Gatti goes down hard on the seat of his pants! Gatti can't see a thing, no way the ref is going to let it continue. Gatti gets up pretty quick and he gets the mandatory 8 count. Rodriguez is all over him and lands a right cross-left hook, a left hook-right cross, and a left-right-left; all to the head! Incredibly, Gatti absorbs it and is moving forward firing hooks to head and body. Gatti lands a low blow to the hip and the ref warns him. Gatti lands a hard left hook that wobbles Rodriguez just before the bell. Both men look hurt, and they each head to the wrong corner! Arturo's face looks like he went ten rounds, and cutman Joe Souza is earning his salary, trying his best to reduce the swelling. Gatti races out for the 3rd round, and immediately hurts Rodriguez with a hard right over the top followed by a left hook that sends Rodriguez to the ropes. Rodriguez is trying to survive the onslaught. He is forced to trade but Gatti has the edge in firepower. Chants of "Gatti" fill the arena as he repeatedly wings left hooks to both the head and body of Rodriguez, keeping him on his heels. Rodriguez actually lands a couple of head shots in the corner but Gatti fires back and lands a sensational left hook that momentarily stops Rodriguez's forward movement. They both trade at the bell and Gatti heads to his corner with his eyes nothing more than a pair of slits.

The doctor momentarily visits the corner to determine whether Gatti can continue. "This is world class stuff, folks" says Merchant. - "This is World War III folks!" chimes Roy Jones Jr. The visit to the corner by the doctor turns a desperate Gatti into an animal and he comes out for the 4th round looking to do damage. He is loading up with every punch and his right eye is almost shut. Gatti is stalking and lands a right to the body. "Some of the blows are landing on the hip." observes Roy Jones Jr. Gatti is doing well, and no one is sitting in their seats as they chant "Gatti." By now my throat is raw, and I know I am going to pay for it later, but in the moment, you just don't care. Rodriguez comes back with hooks and crosses to the head. "What is keeping these guys up?" asks Merchant. Gatti gets hurt with a hook in the corner, and Rodriguez is firing away. Just when it looks like the ref is going to stop it, Gatti lands a big left hook to the head,and a low blow that goes undetected by the ref. Gatti pulls the round out and incredibly, no one in the Theater has sat for the last two rounds! This is New York City!

How many fingers?
Souza is working hard in the corner and Gatti is in agony."How many fingers?" asks the doctor. "I don't think Gatti can go another round" says Merchant. This is now the 5th round and Arturo shows the world a world class heart. Gatti is landing the hook more often but still landing some shots to the hip. Rodriguez is trying to turn it back into a boxing match by using the ring and jabbing Gatti's swollen eyes. Gatti continues to move forward with the body shots. Rodriguez triples the jab and Gatti lands a right cross. Gatti finally loses a point for low blows while they are trading. Gatti is undeterred and jumps right back on his man and lands a perfect left hook to the body. Rodriguez is down! The ref is in Wilson's face, and he barely makes the count. Gatti races across the ring trying to finish his man by rightfully going right back to the body. They are both firing head shots as they trade at the bell. What a round.This may have been the best round of the fight, so far.

In between rounds, it's almost like a scene from a Rocky movie as Gatti is told "stay to the body, Rodriguez will quit." In the opposite corner, they are literally pleading with Rodriguez. "You are winning this fight, STAY AWAY FROM THIS MAN!" At the advice of his corner, Gatti comes out for the 6th round focusing on the body. Rodriguez is trying his best to just jab and stay away from him but Gatti is now moving his head and cutting off the ring, forcing him to trade. Rodriguez is taking the head shots well but the body shots are sucking the life out of him. The fight fans sense the tide has turned and once again chants of "Gatti" are filling the arena. "Thunder" throws a few more well placed body shots, before loading up with a huge left hook to the head with all his body weight thrown behind it. BOOM! Wilson Rodriguez is no more. He lands flat on his back, and even though he tries, he doesn't even come close to beating the count. What you can't see on HBO is fans racing down the aisles towards the ring to get a better look, the way you would view a car crash.

How about that!
The time of the stoppage is 2:15 of round six. The medics are in the ring immediately and Gatti's handlers are carrying him around the ring. "People will never forget this fight, they will show it over and over" says Merchant. "My new nominee for fight of the year!" says Roy Jones Jr. Larry Merchant does the interview with a victorious Gatti. "I told myself I better wake up when I got dropped" said the bruised but elated Champion. This fight turned out to be Wilson Rodriguez's last hurrah as he went on a 5-3 run before finally hanging up his gloves with a 48-10-3 record. As for Arturo, his career had more highlights than almost any fighter (he won Ring Magazine Fight of the Year honors four times) and almost every fight was memorable. As for his ring accomplishments, he had mixed results. His move up in weight saw losses to Angel Manfredy and Ivan Robinson (twice). James "Buddy" McGirt revived his career, starting with a win against Terron Millett. He then had a controversial win against Joey Gamache, impressive wins against Gabriel Ruelas, Jesse James Leija, and Leonard Dorin, his exciting trilogy with Micky Ward, with 2 of the 3 fights selected as Fight of the Year, followed by brutal knockout losses to Floyd Mayweather, Carlos Baldomir, and finally Alfonso Gomez in 2007. He retired with a record of 40-9 (31 KO's). Arturo Gatti died mysteriously in Brazil on July 11, 2009. To this day, no one really knows what happened, other than a proud warrior was taken from us way too soon.

The Friday Night Fight Flashback you just enjoyed was written by boxing junkie David McLeod, exclusively for KO Digest. Each week, David will flashback to a memorable fight in boxing history.