(For more on the rest of Saturday's fights, including the tremendous title win of Paul Williams over Antonio Margarito, scroll down to the previous article. I felt as though Gatti deserved top billing, one last time.)
"The harder you work, the harder it is to surrender." -- Vince Lombardi
Arturo Gatti's return to Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City didn't go as he had hoped. With an old friend as his new trainer and a different gameplan than we're used to seeing, Gatti looked, spoke, and acted the part of a still-relevant fighter, at least until he started fighting. Then, fight fans witnessed the true end of a wonderfully memorable career.
A few days ago, in an article I called, "Welcome Back, Arturo," I wrote that Gatti would never quit until he was carried out on his shield, like any great warrior. Well, Arturo Gatti went out on his shield on Saturday night. Lightly-regarded Alfonso Gomez thoroughly dominated the 35-year old Gatti before knocking him out with the back end of a 1-2 combo, a vicious straight right that busted the fallen warrior's lip wide open in the seventh round.
Gomez was winning a clean sweep on my card, and was ahead on all of the official cards. The Atlantic City crowd, which has so long supported Gatti and given him a true home arena, seemed to sense after a few rounds that this was it. This was the end for Arturo Gatti. The last time we would see "Thunder" in a professional ring.
I waited for Gatti to shift from the somewhat-surprising boxing-first approach into the wild, all-out brawler that we all grew to love over the years. But it never came. And it couldn't come. Gomez was faster, stronger, hungrier, and just clearly the superior fighter.
I don't mean any disrespect to Alfonso Gomez, who is a tough guy, and a great guy, too. He seemed genuinely thankful for the opportunity and truly pleased with his win over the legendary Gatti. But it's no stretch to say that if Gatti couldn't beat Gomez, he shouldn't fight any longer. And not only couldn't he beat Gomez, he couldn't come anywhere close. He was overwhelmed out there, and it was obvious to anyone that watched the fight that Arturo Gatti was finished.
But despite this type of finish, Gatti never quit. He never gave up. And it took all that Gomez had to knock Gatti out. Gomez said after the fight that he was punching himself out trying to finish off the ever-resilient Gatti, and that he was winded by the time the final right hand landed.
I mentioned the strange sense of the crowd after two or three rounds already, and I think it was really something to feel if you're a Gatti fan. The Atlantic City crowd, filled with Gatti supporters, knew that this wasn't the same guy that they'd shown up countless times previously to see bleed, sweat and punch his way into the annals of history as one of the greatest action stars to ever live. Gatti was old, didn't even really physically resemble the Gatti we all knew and loved. His face showing the weathering of so many battles, Gatti looks older than his 35 years should suggest. This is true of many fighters, of course, but Gatti was not your typical fighter, as we all know. He looked old and tired even for a 35-year old boxer.
Immediately after, Manny Steward said that he hoped it was the final right hand we'd ever see Arturo Gatti take. Later on in the night, we found out it would be.
In a post-fight interview with Max Kellerman, Arturo "Thunder" Gatti, former junior welterweight and junior lightweight champion of the world, officially announced his retirement, and he did it as graciously as any fighter ever could. With his lip bandaged up, and surrounded by his team -- including trainer and former rival Micky Ward -- Gatti called it a career, with tears in his eyes. And what a career it was.
40 wins. 31 knockouts. The trilogy with Ward, the two valiant losses to Ivan Robinson, the two valiant wins over Tracey Harris Patterson. Fights with Mayweather and de la Hoya. Titles in two divisions. And all this from a guy whose skill was nowhere near exceptional, but whose courage, toughness, and outright will to win dwarfed that of a normal boxer.
Boxing will miss Arturo Gatti for what he once was. But boxing is also not a sport where careers age gracefully, and a fight with Father Time was simply one that Gatti couldn't win, no matter how badly he wanted it, or how hard he tried.
It was sad, but it was just because we were saying goodbye to a truly memorable fighter. Although I think a majority of us as boxing fans thought Gatti could win against Gomez, we all knew that the proposed fight with Chavez, Jr., in November would be the last one. Instead, Alfonso Gomez put the stamp on the envelope in advance.
Gatti deserves to be remembered as fondly and as warmly as he will be. The end of a great career has come, but shed no tears for Thunder. He went a lot further than most could have ever expected, and he left us with a mountain of memories that I know I'll be talking about for the rest of my life. And he went out with pride. And he went down swingin', like Billy the Kid.
"He was just stronger than I was, hungry fighter, young fighter, strong, I did my best. ... I wish I could make 140 but it's not possible. I can't continue at 147, and I can't continue to take this punishment anymore. ... I feel sad for my team, because we worked so hard. ... I don't belong at 147. ... I just couldn't do it tonight. I give my best. ... Thanks for supporting me."
Goodbye, Arturo. And thank you.