Arturo Gatti: Boxer whose blood ‘n’ guts style made him a leading attraction

Gatti was once gloriously described by the Oscar-winning boxing scribe, Budd Schulberg, as being the master of no defence, an attribute that certainly endangered his health but also made him a major attraction. His trio of fights in 2002 and 2003 with Irish Micky Ward, a total of 30 blood-splattered rounds of relentless aggression, are considered by some to be the finest series in the sport.

It is interesting to note that not a single world championship belt was on the line when Gatti met Ward. However the legendary ring announcer, Michael Buffer, insisted that the winner would leave the ring with the title of “boxing’s ultimate blood and guts warrior”. Gatti lost the first, won the next two and finished his career with 40 wins from 49 fights during 17 years of boxing.

He did win world titles, starting in 1995 with the International Boxing Federation’s super-featherweight belt. He made three successful defences, two in his adopted home of Atlantic City, before becoming the sport’s most exciting and reckless fighter. In 2004 he won the World Boxing Council light-welterweight title, made two defences and lost it to Floyd Mayweather. He fought 21 fights as the main attraction on HBO, the pay-channel television company that has dominated and controlled the sport for the last 20 years in America.

In addition to the Ward trilogy there were the amazing two fights with Ivan Robinson in 1998. The fights took place in Atlantic City and once again there was no need for the increasingly meaningless addition of a world championship bauble. Gatto lost both ? and his reputation increased.

In 2000 he was involved in a controversial fight when he knocked out Joey Gamache in New York. Gamache was rushed to hospital for checks, still suffers from migraine attacks and is taking the New York State Athletic Commission to court, claiming that Gatti was too heavy on the night. Gatti was due to give evidence for both sides at the impending case. “Arturo was a stand-up guy,” said Gamache. “I don’t blame him.”

Gatti enhanced his blue-collar credentials and pulling power away from the ring with tales of buying drinks for fans and never refusing autograph requests. He was perceived as the last-chance hero, the man with a puncher’s chance, and he regularly attracted over 15,000 people each time he fought in Atlantic City. His fights on the jaded Boardwalk were often called reunions, because so many people returned again and again.

He lived in Jersey City in New Jersey, a short drive from Atlantic City, after starting to box in Montreal’s St. Leonard’s section, where he had lived since leaving Italy as a child. Inside boxing Gatti was considered a throwback to a time when American fight fans supported the immigrant blue-collar underdog.

Gatti only fought in Las Vegas once and received a career-high purse of $1.4m for taking a savage beating from the fists of Oscar De La Hoya in 2001. It was Gatti who left the ring to the biggest cheer ? I know because I was there. He was taken to hospital for a routine check and asked if the limousine could wait. “It won’t take long,” he assured the driver. “It happens all the time!” The next day, both eyes cut and nearly closed, he was at the MGM’s pool, entertaining friends and fans.

He finally walked away from the sport in July 2007 after a loss to a mediocre fighter. “I’m done, that’s it,” he said. He refused several offers to return, concentrating on being a ringside guest and on a small property portfolio in Montreal.

He met his wife, Amanda Carina Barbosa Rodrigues, a Brazilian, at a strip bar in New York. They married shortly after and have a 10-month-old son. The three were on holiday at the Porto de Galinhas beach resort, near Recife in Brazil, when Gatti was found dead in their suite. The police took his young wife into custody, alleging that she strangled him with a handbag strap and stabbed him in the head with a steak knife after a drunken row. By the time Gatti was buried yesterday, she had yet to be charged.

Steve Bunce

Arturo Gatti, boxer: born Italy 15 April 1972; married Amanda Rodrigues (one son); died Porto de Galinhas, Brazil 11 July 2009.

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