Like some relic from the era of bare-knuckle brawling, the bout
between Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward last Saturday night in
Atlantic City was breathtaking in its brutality: two iron-faced
pugs with iron wills, trying to beat each other's brains out.
The bell would ring, and you'd think there was no way the
furious action could last another round, and yet it did and it
did and it did, even after Gatti broke his right hand in the
fourth and Ward, suffering from blurred vision from the third
round on, started seeing three Gattis in the ring. At a time
when boxing cards are larded with oversold, overpaid poseurs
who don't deliver, it was a novelty to watch a pair of bangers
unafraid to stand their ground and pound away. By the end Gatti
had done most of the pounding, winning by unanimous decision.
This was the rubber match in a three-fight nontitle series that
promoter Lou DiBella called an "epic trilogy." Over a span of 13
months the two junior welterweights of comparable skill squared
off for 90 unyielding, unforgettable minutes of mayhem that will
forever link their names.
A free-swinging pinwheel of a prizefighter, Gatti has built a
36-6 record on electrifying victories and equally high-voltage
defeats. The 31-year-old Montrealer is geared to box in only one
way: Crowd 'em and crack 'em. "If I crack 'em," he reasons,
"they're going to sleep." The kind of beatings this reckless
crowd-pleaser has taken make for great TV but short careers.
Six years older than Gatti, Ward (38-13) has been an animated if
somewhat anonymous club fighter for most of his years in the
ring. The Lowell, Mass., native quit the sport at 26 after losing
four straight bouts and confidence in his brittle right hand. He
used the swag he made on a road-paving crew to have some of the
bones in the hand fused together, drawing bone from his pelvis.
At 28 he quit the crew and launched a comeback. "The machine I
drove only went forward and backward," he says. "Never side to
That pretty much describes the way he steamrollered Gatti on May
18, 2002, in one of boxing's great free-for-alls. The momentum
swung back and forth until Round 9, when Ward dropped Gatti with
a left hook to the liver. Gatti rose from a knee at the count of
10 and fought on, winning the next round and almost pulling out
the fight. Ward got a majority decision, but if one judge hadn't
given him the ninth by a generous 10-7 score, the result would
have been a draw, which is how most everyone remembers the most
two-sided fight in history.
That night Ward and Gatti wound up in a trauma center in Norwich,
Conn., where they sat side by side and chatted amiably about
their golf games. Six months later, in the third round of their
second bout, Gatti wobbled Ward with a right behind the ear,
propelling him face-first into a turnbuckle. Eardrum shattered,
eyes like glazed Krispy Kremes, Ward fell to his knees. The ref
was waved off by Ward, who tottered groggily and hung on. Gatti
shot in punch after punch at the half-helpless target but
couldn't finish him off. Gatti won easily on points. "I used to
wonder what would happen if I fought my twin," Gatti said after
the fight. "Now I know."
In this third and final installment--Ward says he's
retiring--Gatti showed quickness and slickness. Rather than trade
blows in the early rounds, he waltzed tantalizingly beyond the
reach of his ever-charging opponent's hooks, sticking him with
jabs and crosses, 30 straight in the third round.
Ward never really wavered, much less wobbled. He made a
remarkable recovery in Round 4, landing five successive left
uppercuts before Gatti responded with a barrage of lefts of his
own. The 12,643 delirious fans at sold-out Boardwalk Hall showed
their appreciation with one of a half-dozen standing ovations.
The crowd rose again in the sixth after Ward decked Gatti with an
overhand right. Referee Earl Morton was forced to stop his count
when the bell sounded, and then Gatti got his second, third and
fourth winds. Though Ward flailed at him like a sea anemone,
Gatti was never in much danger again. Two of the judges scored
the fight 96-93; the third, 97-92.
When the bell rang at the end of Round 10--or was it
30?--slugfest turned lovefest. The twins embraced (as they had in
a moving moment before the final round) and shared a bottle of
water. Ward was taken to the hospital with badly bruised hands.
Gatti, nursing the broken hand that had reduced him to a
one-armed fighter for the last six rounds, joined him minutes
No doubt they sat around the E.R. discussing golf etiquette.