By Mark Elezaj
July 11th for many people is just another day, but for me, it’s the day the boxing world lost Arturo “Thunder” Gatti.
I remember it as if it just happened yesterday, not 10 years ago. I still remember getting a phone call that day from a friend who was yelling at me to “turn on ESPN right now”, which I did. I remember seeing Gatti’s face on the screen, while hearing the news that “Arturo “Thunder” Gatti was found dead today….”
I hung up the phone, sat down on my sofa and continued to watch as the reporter broke the news. I didn’t believe it, there’s no way! That was my thought process. This is a joke, it has to be.
Unfortunately it was not!
While I continued watching the broadcast, I called another friend, actually one of Gatti’s close friends, asking if he heard the news and he said no. I told him “put on ESPN and call me back.”
Reality finally set in once I heard ESPN’s Dan Rafael say “I’m trying to act like a reporter in this instance but I am devastated…”
I then called my brother, “dude, Gatti died..” He responded “yeah ok.” While I was still watching the report I told my brother “Frank, put on ESPN” and hung up.
To this day, the news of Gatti’s passing still upsets me, there are times where I catch myself getting emotional while watching his highlight reels or even reading an article about him.
I remember the first time I saw Gatti fight, I was like “wow look at how fast he is”, but what truly made me realize the type of fighter he was, was when he knocked out Wilson Rodriguez in 1996, with both of his eyes almost closed shut. I was amazed at his heart and dedication.
Since then, I became a fan of Gatti’s, to me (as well as all who watched him fight) he was the real life “Rocky”, a true blood and guts warrior, who many came to love after his classic trilogy with Micky Ward back in 2002 and 2003.
I still get chills watching the ninth round of their first fight. Gatti, hurt from a body shot, somehow weathered the storm, returned fire, and gave us the “round of the century.” Gatti may have lost that fight by majority decision but he won the hearts of millions.
As for me, it goes a little deeper then that.
Back in 2005, after a night of bag work, light sparring, and “rough housing” with the guys in the gym, I was asked to go out with everyone to a lounge in Manhattan. At first I was hesitant, I wanted to go home, I was tired, but after a few “come on p**sy” comments, I agreed. We ended up going downtown to the city and to this day I am so happy that I went.
One of the guys in our entourage met up with his “friend” and introduced us. It was Arturo Gatti! I couldn’t believe it. “Arturo, this is Mark” we shook hands but I was stuck, I couldn’t believe I was actually meeting one of my favorite fighters. “Mr. Gatti it’s a pleasure, you’re my hero.” (I know it was cheesy but that’s what came out.)
“Mr. Gatti, I’m not that old am I? he said while laughing at me and asking us to join him at his table.
He was a true gentleman, laughing and joking with all of us. It only became a serious conversation when business was discussed, and the only time anyone spoke about boxing was when he asked about the guys from the gym we all trained at. As for me, I don’t know if it was because I was star struck, but I didn’t speak much until he called me out on it.
“What happened they broke your jaw when you sparred today?” he asked me and I responded “no way.”
“So say something to your hero” he said smiling.
That actually made it much easier for me to get comfortable and it was truly a night I won’t forget. We all had a good time, it was just “boys being boys.”
Occasionally, after that night, I would show up at different functions, local sporting events in Long Island, different boxing gyms etc. and Gatti would be there. He acted as if he knew me for years, saying “what’s up kid” as he shook my hand, inviting me to join his table and introducing me to his friends and so on.
One of my fondest memories was when I was in Gleason’s gym in Brooklyn NY and Gatti was there, training for an upcoming fight. I didn’t want to bother him while he was working, so I just said hello, told him to have a good workout and went about my business. I began my workout on a heavy bag, waiting for my trainer to come start “yelling” instructions. After the bell sounded, I took a seat on a stool waiting to get up and start my next round, and I was yelled at, but it wasn’t by my trainer- who was running late- I was getting yelled at by Gatti.
“Why are you sitting down?” he asked me.
“Just waiting for the bell to start the next round” I replied.
“No man, stand up, never sit down in between rounds, that’s just going to kill your momentum. You have to stay focused! And throw your hook this way!”
Arturo Gatti won two world titles in his 16 year career. In 1995, he won the IBF junior lightweight title when he beat Tracy Harris Patterson to claim the IBF junior lightweight title.
After his loss to Floyd Mayweather Jr. in June 2005, he came back to defeat Thomas Damgaard, but lost his final two fights to Carlos Baldomir in 2006 and Alfonso Gomez in July 2007.
In the dressing room after the loss to Gomez, Gatti announced his retirement from the sport he loved.
On July 11, 2009, Gatti was found dead in his hotel room in Brazil where he was on a second honeymoon with his wife, Amanda Rodrigues, and their 10 month old son.
The Brazilian authorities at first considered Gatti’s wife a prime suspect and arrested her. She was later released and it was concluded that Gatti had committed suicide.
I can not come to terms with this, there’s no way! To this day, I still find it hard to believe that Arturo Gatti, one of the most exciting fighters in the world, killed himself in that hotel room in Brazil.
I can go on and on with stories about Arturo Gatti the fighter or the man. I can talk about his real estate ideas, how much he missed boxing after he retired, the way he considered coming back to boxing, his love for his family and friends, his love for life all together.
The story of Arturo Gatti is one for the ages. On December 10, 2012 Arturo Gatti was voted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
I miss you my friend!
Rest In Peace Arturo “Thunder” Gatti…
~ The Fighting Voice ~