There may be no three-fight rivalry in the long, storied, and often mythical history of boxing that has left the public with such great respect, admiration, and love for both of the participants as the wars between Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward. Each fight in the series has been talked about a million times, and we'll tell the stories a million times more. I'm 25, and I have to assume that someday, I'll sit in my living room watching boxing with my children and later my grandchildren, and I'll probably tell the stories of Gatti and Ward, two of the most memorable fighters I will ever see.
That said, part of me holds the series in contempt. The all-action bouts were incredible and dramatic, as close to a Rocky movie as you can get, with both guys playing Rocky. But sometimes I do wonder if fights like Gatti/Ward or Corrales/Castillo I skew perception in such a fashion that great fights go unheralded in comparison. Make no mistake: Gatti/Ward is not what boxing was supposed to be. As great as the fights were, they give the wrong impression. Floyd Mayweather, Jr., who has never had a fight that approached that sort of passion, is a boxer. Gatti and Ward are fighters.
Of course, it's the natural instinct of anyone to be drawn to the fighter. Mayweather is an unbelievable natural talent with skills that can't be dreamed of. Gatti, Ward, Diego Corrales -- those are the guys you can dream on. They're just like you, except they're pro boxers. They've got guts for days, immeasurable heart, and an everyman's mentality.
This Saturday, Gatti and Ward meet again, but not in opposite corners. After a year out of the ring, "Thunder" Gatti makes his return to Boardwalk Hall, where he is the undisputed champion of the world, win, lose, or draw, and he has "Irish" Micky Ward as his trainer.
I am mildly surprised to see Gatti back in the ring. It is boxing, and most of the time fighters do stick around too long. But Gatti looked shot last year in his loss to Baldomir. Arturo threw some bombs and didn't even faze the welterweight champion. Sure, Gatti isn't a 147-pounder, really, and Baldomir is very tough, but the champion walked through Gatti's best shots. Absorbed them. As if they didn't even land.
I thought that maybe, just maybe, Arturo Gatti would call it quits. Of course, I should've known better. Gatti is a true warrior at heart, and he will be carried out on his shield.
The sad reality is, we all know what the future probably holds for Arturo Gatti, physically and mentally. His management team and those close to him say there are no signs of the 35-year old Gatti slurring his speech or any of the other complications that so often occur from such violent and brutal employment. And while boxing is a rough enough way to make money if you fight like Cory Spinks, imagine the toll it takes to fight like Arturo Gatti.
Yet, he never relents. He did his damnedest to hurt Baldomir, and wound up knocked out after being more or less dominated. Oscar destroyed him. Mayweather embarrassed him. Three fights with Ward, the wars with Robinson, Manfredy, Rodriguez. And that doesn't account for all the other fights, many of them knock-down, drag-out affairs. It's inevitable that Arturo Gatti will have to pay the price.
It's tough when you think about it that way to be excited about Gatti coming back, but my thought is, you can't turn back time. You can't make those shots from Ward or Robinson or de la Hoya or Mayweather not land. The wheels are already in motion. And if Arturo Gatti wants to fight on, then God be with him. From all we are told, he is currently in fine condition, and it's his decision. If he was in immediate danger, he wouldn't be licensed, anyway.
Alfonso Gomez is a 26-year old fighter out of Guadalajara, now residing in Whittier, CA. He's a "Contender" product who isn't going to back down, won't run from the veteran warrior, and will get in there and bang with him. He's not a particularly dangerous puncher, making him the perfect foil for Gatti's comeback. Nobody has made any bones about the fact that Arturo Gatti and his team basically hand-picked the opposition for this fight, and frankly, after 48 professional fights, Arturo Gatti is allowed a tune-up. And, really, how many other fighters can get their tune-ups broadcast on HBO?
This won't be the stiffest test of Gatti's career, to say the least. It could be something of a dream come true for Gomez, who fights like a guy that idolizes Arturo Gatti. It's a bout meant to match Gatti up with emerging second-generation star Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. -- a fight that, should it happen in November as planned, will pit a young, strong fighter against an old pro on his last legs. Someday, Junior Chavez may be a great fighter. But his road to get there currently has a stop at Gatti Avenue, and that's a neighborhood where any young fighter is going to learn a trick or two.
The Gatti/Gomez fight isn't big money, it's not for a title, and it's really just a set-up. It's not even the selling point of Saturday's HBO broadcast. But I'd be lying if I didn't say it was the fight that I am instinctively most looking forward to. I know that Margarito/Williams is far more important and will likely be the better fight, but you can never doubt a guy like Arturo Gatti. Welcome back, Thunder. One more time for the sweet souvenir.