November 25, 2012

Does Arturo Gatti Belong in the International Boxing Hall of Fame?

Gatti to the IBHOF in 2013?
By Jeffrey Freeman -- Arturo Gatti has been dead for more than three years and his final fight was over five years ago. The question must be asked and seriously considered. Does Arturo "Thunder" Gatti belong in the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, NY?

As one of the most spectacularly exciting fighters of all time, Gatti's ring exploits truly are the stuff of legend. Miraculous comebacks, a slew of epic ring wars, pulling long-lost fights out of thin air with one punch knockouts, and of course nobody will ever forget his three fights with Micky Ward, a trilogy which in and of itself earned two Ring Magazine "Fight of the Year" awards and produced arguably the greatest round in the history of boxing, the epic 9th round of their first fight in 2002.

But is all that enough for Gatti to overcome his Hall of Fame shortcomings - he lost nine fights despite winning forty, he never beat a truly great fighter, and what about the perception that Gatti possessed at best, average boxing skills? Let's take a closer look.

Throwback Fighter
Some will argue that Gatti was not a "great" fighter by strict definition and that he was in fact very average in his skills. Critics will argue that the International Boxing Hall of Fame (IBHOF) is reserved for boxing's very best and I agree with this but I also believe that Gatti did display greatness in the ring, just not the type we're used to seeing such as dazzling displays of boxing skill, lengthy undefeated streaks, or perhaps most importantly - defeating other "great" fighters. Gatti's greatness must be measured and recognized in a totally different way. Think about it like this: Great fighters engage in consistently great fights, and it's not always about how much pure talent a boxer has or how technically skilled he is or even how many titles he's won. Sometimes it's just about what happens in that ring when the gloves fly and how much a fighter is willing to give of himself.

Very few ever gave more of themselves in a boxing ring than Arturo Gatti. Check out his fights against Wilson Rodriguez, Gabriel Ruelas, Ivan Robinson, and Micky Ward if there is any doubt about this. Gatti's "boxing skills", limited though they may have been, were more than simply the sum of his talents and easily recognizable accomplishments.

If you only consider Gatti's Hall of Fame worthiness in terms of basic boxing elements like defense and other fundamentals, or the number of world titles he won (for the record, two), or the quality of opposition in his biggest wins, maybe you would say he doesn't deserve to be inducted and you would have a reasonable argument shared by many but if you look at how Gatti fought (as the ultimate blood & guts warrior of his era), and consider how many epic ring wars and "Fight of the Year" quality fights he was involved in, well then maybe you would say he does, and you too would have a reasonable argument shared by many.

Gatti battles Oscar De La Hoya
There will be those who say that Arturo Gatti never beat a great fighter and that the two best fighters he ever fought, Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather, beat him easily. That may be partly true but despite never beating a truly great fighter, Gatti really did beat some very outstanding fighters during his career. He defeated Tracy Harris Patterson (twice), Calvin Grove, Gabriel Ruelas, Jesse James Leija, Terron Millett, Micky Ward (twice), as well as Gianluca Branco, Leonard Dorin, and Thomas Damgaard; all three of whom were undefeated until they ran into Gatti. And even though Mayweather made beating Gatti look easy - something he does to most everyone he fights - go ask De La Hoya how "easy" it really was to beat Gatti. It wasn't, despite how it may have looked. By rising from a crushing knockdown in the first round to continue fighting against an opponent he was so clearly overmatched and outgunned by, Arturo showed more in defeat against Oscar than most fighters show in victory. That was the essence of Arturo Gatti and his do-or-die approach to the sport he loved.

Only a select few in boxing history can even be compared to Arturo Gatti in terms of that do-or-die approach: Rocky Graziano, Matthew Saad Muhammad, and Bobby Chacon - all three of these warriors are in the IBHOF, right where they belong. Gatti was also incredibly famous and very popular for a lighter weight fighter who fought during the era of superstars like Tyson & Holyfield. With his thrilling throwback style, Gatti single-handedly put Atlantic City back on the map as a hub for big time boxing at a time in the 1990's when Atlantic City desperately needed it. That had to do with how Gatti fought, not who he beat, or who beat him. Win or lose, Gatti's indomitable fighting spirit was one of a kind and people around the world took notice of it. The big question is, will the International Boxing Hall of Fame voters take notice and induct the man known as the Human Highlight Reel into boxing immortality? The feeling here is that they will, and that when they do, it will be justified based on merit, and not based on sympathy or diminished standards as some might claim when and if it happens.

Yet despite all of this, some will still argue that Gatti just did not have enough "skill" or "ability" to be considered for a place among boxing's immortals. Frankly, that is a very shortsighted way of looking at it, and it does not do justice to what Gatti contributed to the sport and what he accomplished in the ring. More than just fundamentals; the category of boxing "skills and abilities" also includes intangibles like heart, the ability to take a punch, the ability to rise from knockdowns, the ability to fight though pain & injury, and the ability to somehow win fights when normal men would have long ago packed it in. Arturo Gatti was anything but a normal man and all of the above are skills that he possessed in epic quantities. His fighting heart was truly legendary and some would say in a class all by itself. Ultimately, isn't that what we expect from "great" fighters?

Reborn & Eternal at IBHOF?
I contend that Arturo Gatti clearly belongs in the International Boxing Hall of Fame, and I believe that his premature death actually increases the likelihood of his induction, which is not to say that if he were alive today he wouldn't deserve it.

There is something transcendent about dying young and what that loss adds to any great athlete's legacy. It tends to enhance it, particularly when that death is as mysterious and tragic as was Gatti's at the age of 37.

Yes, of course Arturo "Thunder" Gatti belongs in the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

He was the real life ROCKY and there may never be another fighter like him.

Written by KO Digest creator Jeffrey Freeman, this article was originally published in the March 2012 edition of Beyond the Badge newspaper and has previously appeared online on this website and in various other sites and forums. Please feel free to share this link in support of Thunder. Rest in Peace Arturo Gatti - 1972-2009.

UPDATE (12/10/12) - Arturo "Thunder" Gatti has been voted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame on the first ballot! Gatti's induction will take place on June 9th, 2013 at the IBHOF in Canastota, NY where boxing's ultimate blood and guts WARRIOR will be REBORN and made IMMORTAL.

Well deserved HONOR!