Mel Brooks once wrote a sketch for Sid Caesar, whose character
was so powerful he could kill a Buick by punching it in the
grille. "Oh yeah?" says Arturo Gatti. "When my father was a kid
in Italy, he knocked out a mule by socking it in the jaw."
Gatti's whamming fists may come from his old man, Giovanni, and
so may his mulishness. "If Dad was still alive, he'd make me
fight him," he says. "He'd see I'm too stubborn to move my head
like I should."
A fiery, free-swinging pinwheel of a boxer, Gatti has built a
33-4 record scuffling straight up, like an angry wallaby. He's
geared to fight in only one way: to wade in and whale. "I love to
bleed, love it," he says. "People at ringside bring umbrellas to
my bouts so they won't get splashed."
At 28, Gatti is a little burlier than he was in 1995 when he
outpointed Tracy Patterson to win the IBF junior lightweight
crown, and no less tough. The WBC ranks him fourth at 140
pounds; the WBA, fourth at 147. Gatti's next fight will probably
be in February, when he looks to get a title shot against either
the WBC's super lightweight champ, Konstantin Tszyu, or its
welterweight king, Shane Mosley. "It don't matter which," Gatti
says, matter-of-factly. "Blood is blood, no matter what it
Gatti has a lean, expressive face, pure Napolitano, with a
swaybacked nose and a mouth that in repose knows something of
cruelty. Tattooed on the back of his neck are a pair of boxing
gloves dripping with blood under the inscription VICTORY. In
conversation Gatti comes across as shy and even a little
shambling, jittery and prone to struggle for words in four
languages--English, Italian, Spanish and French. He tends to
stare at you as he would at an indistinct but compelling point
in the distance, such as a UFO or a third ear on a ring girl.
"I'm a calm guy," he says. "When I sleep." Between the ropes,
though, he turns predatory, desperate. His defensive
strategy--if it can be called strategy at all--amounts to
absorbing as many blows as he throws.
"In the gym he's decent defensively," says his manager, Pat
Lynch. "But when he steps on the canvas, he disregards all the
planning. If he gets slugged, he feels obliged to slug back."
Patience is not a Gatti virtue. "He's maybe a little too
competitive," says veteran trainer Gil Clancy. "Guys who get hit
that much don't usually last long."
That Gatti has lasted this long--he's been a pro for nine years--is
a testament to his mule-slugging father. Arturo learned the
fundamentals in Giovanni's room: Papa schooled him at home in
Montreal, where, as an immigrant from Caserta, north of Naples,
he carved out a career as an electrician.
If the demanding Giovanni lived for his work, he may have died
for his obstinacy. In 1990, while standing on a ladder at a job
site, he fell to the floor and landed on his back. For a week he
refused treatment. "When he did accept it, it was too late,"
Arturo says. "He died of internal bleeding." Giovanni was 46.
No longer expected to be the "hardest-punching electrician in
Montreal," 19-year-old Arturo followed his junior middleweight
brother, Joe, to the U.S. and turned pro. "I've got a little
brother up in Canada," Joe told Lynch. "I want to bring him down
here before he gets into trouble."
Arturo's success was instantaneous. He followed his third-round
TKO of Jose Gonzalez with a 19-second knockout of Luis Melendez.
"My first right put Melendez to sleep," Gatti recalls. "He's
still sleeping, I think."
Gatti went on to win 26 of his next 27 fights--13 in Round 1--and
earned the nickname Thunder, along with flattering comparisons to
such reckless crowd-pleasers as Rocky Marciano and Carmen
Basilio. Thunderclaps reverberated even after Gatti lost three
straight bouts in 1998: to Angel Manfredy on cuts in the eighth
round, and to Ivan Robinson in a pair of breathtaking battles
that went the distance. "Everybody wrote Arturo off," Lynch says.
"He'd been in too many wars."
Yet Gatti stopped his next three opponents--all within two rounds.
In his last armed conflict, on Sept. 8, Gatti outlasted Joe
Hutchinson despite suffering a brutal head-butt-induced gash in
Round 2 that shut his left eye and another head-butt over the
right eye in Round 3, pooling both eyes with blood. "I'd been
boxing so long, I knew he had to be out there somewhere," Gatti
says of Hutchinson. "Anyway, I'm at my best when I see red."