My Love For Boxing: Thank You Gatti and Ward

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On Saturday night, HBO presented a great fight between two warriors and a great documentary about two of its legends.  The documentary chronicled Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward’s vicious three fights and their strong friendship afterwards.  I wanted to mention how it reinvigorated my love for the sport.  Boxing doesn’t get a great rep these days.  Fights still sell but usually the marquee stars can only guarantee a sellout.  The UFC and MMA action have taken over the mainstream fighting world and I can see why.  It’s more brutal, the sport gives back to its fighters and nurtures younger fighters and its shorter and quicker.   Boxing is as close to baseball as it gets because both sports require patience and a certain mindset to locate all the underlying complexities and tactical planning of the sport.  It’s not just two guys getting into the ring and banging fists into bone.  There’s more to it than that.  There are lives behind these fighters and I love hearing more about them.  Every time HBO produces another round of 24/7, a series that takes you into the lives of two fighters before they meet in the ring, I can’t get enough of it.   With boxing, there is a romanticism to it like baseball.  We can get emotional about it.  When you watch boxing, you grimace with each potently landed body shot and lean in for the close up when the man’s jaw seems to be dislocated.  As fans of carnage, and we all are, boxing still has a lot of appeal.  You just need to pick the right fights and have a little patience.

Ward and Gatti were warriors.   A two time champ in Gatti who had the heart of three lions and NEVER quit in the ring.   He gave until it was gone and would ask to be sewn back together in any way possible to finish a fight.  He was more than old school.  He was biblical tough.   In 2003, his career seemed to be going downward when he ran into a fellow fighter who was of the same never say die breed.  Micky Ward, the pride of Lowell, Massachusetts.   Ward never won a championship but he knocked out a few former ones with his incredible array of body shots mixed with hook to the head.   These two fought three times, and pounded on each other so much, they became close friends when the final bell rang after the 30th round.  Gatti won the last two fights after underestimating Ward’s body punching ability in the first two fights, but every contest carried a special flavor.  Fight of the year flavor.  They weren’t trash talkers like Floyd Mayweather Jr..  They weren’t paper champions who never fought a real threat.  Gatti and Ward were fighters.

As HBO commentator Jim Lampley once said in the middle of a broadcast, “You don’t play boxing.  You fight.”  It is war and a place where men can go to die.  It has happened and will happen again.   It’s the same as running into a burning building, getting into a formula one race car or jumping off the cliff of a mountain on a snowboard.  A rush plays into the role but it’s built on the mindset that you can do it and do it very well.  Gatti and Ward had it in their blood.  They were fun to watch.

Their lives were completely different outside the ring.  Ward wasn’t a wild soul yet only found himself part of a wild family.  You may have seen his life portrayed partially in David O. Russell’s amazing Oscar nominated film starring Mark Wahlberg(who narrates the documentary).   Ward was a union worker before and while he fought on the side.  He was a blue collar Boston prodigy who got his hands dirty and wasn’t afraid to earn his keep.  A former stepping stone for champions who didn’t taste those ranks until he beat Gatti, Ward was a family man.

Gatti was born in Italy, raised in Canada and relocated himself to New Jersey as a teenager.   A French Canadian gangster in the ring, Gatti had more than one wife, a couple of kids from different women and didn’t mind living the high life.   He drove fast, loved women and had a huge heart.  He may have had his share of fun but he had class.  He stayed with the same promotional company and manager for his entire career.  Gatti was loyal and that was a trait he shared with Ward.

If you love and understand boxing, you will know 95 percent of fighters don’t hate their opponent.  It’s a business to do what they do and constantly I have to explain to people that the reason they hug after a fight and exchange pleasantries is because the war is over and they can be friends again for a brief period or forever.   Gatti and Ward took that to another level.  One of the most special moments in boxing history is the two men sharing a long passionate embrace after their final fight.   Draped over one another and not feeling a need to let go, simple minded people may have mistook it as a little too close.  A boxing fan was able to register the meaning behind it.  They respected and had grown to love each other as friends, allies, and willing warriors who took it to the limit and left nothing covered.

Without their three fights and the ability to revisit them any time, boxing loses a lot of luster.  Arturo Gatti and Mickey Ward represented boxing at its best.  I have respect for Ali, Foreman, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Sugar Ray Leonard and Hagler but what these two men did in three fights was take the sport of boxing to a whole new level.  An emotional level of respect and pure head to head warfare few matchups are capable of.   If you saw it, you knew it was more than boxing.  It was a partnership.  Today, it can take a long time to get a rematch made.  Gatti and Ward fought three times inside a year and a half.  These two guys didn’t mess around and left the delays to airplanes and the DNV.

When Ward retired after the third fight, he became part of Gatti’s walk out crew and trained him for his last fight in 2007.  When Gatti retired, the two men remained friends until Gatti’s untimely and mysteriously unsolved death in Brazil in 2009.  Gatti was found dead in a hotel room where he was staying with his wife and infant son.   The wife was arrested and charged with the murder and eventually released.   When the final cause of death was stated as suicide, any wise mind with half a cent up top knew it was bullshit and there was a cover up.  Gatti was murdered and didn’t expire to his own tune.  Someone else finally put the raging warrior to rest.   Ward and Gatti’s manager know in concrete sincerity that Gatti was a victim of a harsh crime and left the world too soon at the age of 37.   It seems that most sports tales end with a bit of tragedy and it usually is unfortunate and too soon.  Ward and Gatti were destined to be friends for life after their bloody battles.   The break in their life can be attributed to every untimely death in life, by murder or disease or random action.   Death is a son of a bitch.

The one thing I will take from revisiting Arturo “Thunder” Gatti and “Irish” Micky Ward’s collisions in the ring and their friendship outside of it is the ability to remember what is sacred and ageless about the sport.  The ability for two men to step inside a ring, wage war on each other’s bodies and lives for 10-12 rounds and then return to the normal graces of the human race.   Men who let their fists be the judge of execution have my respect but the fighters who respect their own craft and know what has to be done inside that ring have my love and appreciation.   If you have the chance, watch their fights on YouTube and if you have HBO, watch this documentary, under the name, Legendary Nights: Gatti-Ward.  If you don’t have HBO, wait for the release of the DVD or just watch the fights on YouTube.  If you have three minutes, watch this round.  Round 9 from their first fight, which any boxing pundit will tell you is arguably the greatest round of boxing in the history of the sport.  It’s brutal, beautiful and blunt.  What boxing was and always should be.

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Before the documentary, a great tribute to the raw ferocious power of two guys going at it in the ring was on display with  light welterweights Mike Alvarado and Ruslan Provodnikov going toe to toe for 10 rounds before the Russian pitbull faced brawler wore down the Colorado based Alvarado and scored a technical knockout.  Alvarado was a modern day Gatti, refusing to go down in his fights and getting mixed up in two fight of the year brawls with Brandon Rios(the second of which he won earlier this year).  In Ruslan, he met an unstoppable force and his will was broke.  Before the fight, I picked Ruslan to win by TKO in the 10th round on twitter and wasn’t given a satisfying look.  This was no fluke pick.  While I respect and like Alvarado, I knew this rising star in Provodnikov was a dangerous man.  He took Timothy Bradley to the brink in March and nearly knocked him into early retirement.   In that fight, my opinion is that Bradley was saved by two near knockdowns that were scored slips.   Provodnikov will tell you he thought he lost but he is being a proud Siberian monster.  Bradley fought back and scored a narrow decision but in my opinion, a second fight will once again bring out the truth about Bradley and that is he doesn’t deserve to be unbeaten at all.   Provodnikov proved at First Bank Arena on Saturday night that he doesn’t just knock out low rank boxers on ESPN2 anymore.  He is a real threat and is gunning for gold.  A big puncher is only caged until he meets the right opponent.

Boxing is going strong and will only get better later this year when Manny Pacquaio takes on Rios in China.   The sport is alive and well with a few black eyes involved for good measure to keep it honest.

Thanks for reading,

Dan Buffa

PHOTO CREDITS-DAILY MAIL, USA TODAY

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Author: D. Buffa

A regular guy who feels a journalistic hunger to tell the news. I blog because its wired into my brain to write what I think in print. I offer an opinion. A solo tour here. Take regular stories and offer my spin on them. Sports, film, television, music, fatherhood, culture, food, and so on. Commentary on everything. A St. Louis native and Little Rock resident who wants to write just to keep the hands fresh and ready.

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