May 18, 2012

Friday Night Fight Flashback: Arturo Gatti vs. Micky Ward

Fight of the Year - Round of the Century
"THIS SHOULD BE THE ROUND OF THE CENTURY!" ~ The highly anticipated fight between Arturo "Thunder" Gatti and "Irish" Micky Ward was heading into the final round and legendary trainer Emanuel Steward had nothing but high praise for both fighters. The fight had more than met its expectations and the fight couldn't have come at a better time for American fight fans. The horrific attack of September 11, 2001 had closed the previous year out on a solemn note. While the educated follower was treated to some good fights that year, boxing was in need of a high profile fight with a great storyline to capture the attention of the average fight fan and put it back on the cover of the sport pages.

Both fighters had a fighting style that was considered fan friendly, and the average blue collar worker found it very easy to relate to them. Gatti had been in a few wars, and in order to preserve his boxing shelf life, Buddy McGirt came on board as his new trainer. Buddy emphasized boxing not brawling, and Gatti 34-5 (28KO's) looked fantastic in his last outing against Terron Millett - clearing the path for the fight with Ward.

Micky had lost his last fight by technical decision on a cut due to a head butt against Jesse James Leija (the replay proved that ruling inaccurate) but he looked fantastic in his previous fight against Emanuel Burton, an instant classic which was voted Ring Magazine's 2001 "Fight of the Year." The fight was a natural, as both men seemed to revive their careers at the same time. Both were known as good punchers, but it is Micky's left hook to the body that is known to be world class.

War erupts in Connecticut!
The fight was held on May 18, 2002 at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn. The SRO crowd was curious which Gatti would show up, the puncher or the boxer. At the bell, Ward 37-11 (27KO's) immediately fires a lead left hook to the head, just to let Gatti know he has more than the body shots to worry about. Gatti refuses to take the bait, and is content to box. The first half of the fight features Gatti determined to keep the fight center ring, using his jab, and occasionally throwing combinations to the head, while Ward comes forward behind a high guard, adding more pressure as the rounds mount.

In the second, Ward starts to use his jab, and is starting to find a home for his right hand. Near the end of the round, Gatti is warned to keep the punches up. In the third, Ward lands his first good hook to the body, and it slows Gatti down, forcing him to trade. Ward answers right back with more hooks to the head and body near the end of the round.

The crowd erupts, making it almost impossible to hear the bell.

Ward reacts to a low blow in the 4th
The fight fans are ecstatic, as the fight they were so eagerly anticipating is starting to unfold. Ward taps Gatti on the top of his head on his way to the corner, acknowledging it was a great round. The fighters trade heavy punches in the fourth, as Ward lands a big right cross that stuns Gatti, and he returns fire with uppercuts and hooks to the head. The body shots continue to land for Ward, as well as the right hands to the head. Near the end of the round, Gatti loses a point for a huge low blow, which drops Ward dramatically to the canvas. The intensity of the fight goes to a whole new level in the fifth, as Micky keeps a high guard, and waits for Gatti to finish throwing punches before firing back.

Ward is soaking up a lot of punishment in the fifth, but incredibly, he comes roaring back near the end of the round and almost takes off Gatti's head with a hard left hook at the bell. The fight is now half way over and it's dead even.

In rounds six through eight, the momentum of the fight changes yet again. Gatti continues to box, but Ward starts to impose his will on the fight and he is finally rewarded for his work to the body in the eighth round, and Gatti looks hurt at the bell. "Keep hitting him in the body!" says trainer Dick Eklund, giving good advice in the Ward corner.

At this point, the fight has more than lived up to it's expectations, but little did the fight fans know, the Ring Magazine "Round of the Year" was still yet to come! Ward charges out of the corner for the ninth, and lands a right to the head and a hard left to the body, forcing Gatti to hold. He lands another viscous left hook to the body, and Gatti is down! Gatti's face is a mask of pain, and he barely makes it up at nine. A lesser fighter would not have made it back to his feet, and Gatti would surely have been forgiven if he'd stayed down.

The 9th round is only thirty seconds old, and Gatti is in BIG trouble. Ward goes right back to the body and lands hooks and right hands to the head but Gatti refuses to go down! Micky's punched himself out, and now it's Arturo "Thunder" Gatti roaring back with hooks and right hands to the head. Micky is against the ropes soaking up punishment, and he takes a big breath before pounding his gloves, as if to say "come on!" Now it's Gatti who is spent, and Ward hits him with with hooks, right hands, and body shots - sucking the life out of him. Gatti is totally defenseless as he's bounced from one ring post to the next. Ward adds a few more hooks to the head, and somehow, Gatti survives the round. The crowd roars in approval, again drowning out the bell.

"This should be round of the century!" famously declares Emanuel Stewart on HBO.

In the Gatti corner there is concern for their fighter's condition, and at the start of the tenth and final round, there is some confusion, as everyone thinks Gatti is done for the evening. The timekeeper forgets to stop the clock, and the final round turns into a short two minute round. For the remainder of the bout, Gatti tries to box and keep his distance, while Ward tries to land the hook to the body, and lands a few hard right hands to the head. The Ring's "Fight of the Year" comes to it's conclusion, and "Irish" Micky Ward is declared the winner by very close, but well earned majority decision.  

Ward pays the high price of victory
After the fight, both men are taken by ambulance to the hospital, but to the delight of boxing fans, they agree to an immediate rematch which was won just six months later by Gatti in another wild fight. "I used to wonder what it would feel like to fight my twin. Now I know," said Gatti. The rubber match in 2003 was also a great fight with Gatti winning by decision, but not before getting dropped in the sixth round.

The third fight was Ring Magazine's 2003 "Fight of the Year" and once again, both men needed a trip to the hospital. In the aftermath of their amazing trilogy, both men became good friends and they were spotted occasionally out on the town, or at the fights.

The trilogy was compared to the 1940's Tony Zale-Rocky Graziano classics, the ultimate compliment. After the third fight, Gatti went on to victories against Gianluca Branco, Leonard Dorin, and Jesse James Leija before losing badly to pound for pound king Floyd Mayweather. He then moved up to welterweight and won the vacant IBA belt against Thomas Damgaard. This was his last victory. He suffered a TKO loss to Carlos Baldomir and cut ties with trainer Buddy McGirt, before asking his old rival Micky Ward to replace him. On July 11, 2007 Gatti took on Alfonso Gomez and lost by brutal TKO. "I'll be back... as a spectator," said Arturo with a sheepish look on his face. Gatti's final record: 40-9-0 (31KO's). Almost two years later to the day, on July 11, 2009, Gatti was found dead in his hotel room in Brazil while on vacation with his new wife. Although it was ruled a suicide, to this day many feel it was a homicide.

Friends Forever

As for Ward, he wisely retired after the last Gatti fight, and he still lives in his hometown of Lowell, MA. To say he still gets love from fight fans would be a massive understatement. A movie was made about his career in 2010 and the upcoming sequel will feature his epic trilogy with Gatti. Today, he is part owner of a gym, part owner of an outdoor hockey rink and he stays active as a trainer in the Lowell boxing scene.

His final record: 38-13 (27KO's)

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