Remembering Arturo Gatti #1 - THUNDER
Photo courtesy of The Ring Magazine via Getty Images
Thunder makes a loud noise but it's the quiet sky that lasts.
It’s been a little over ten years since Arturo “Thunder” Gatti passed away. On the occasion of this anniversary, it felt good to see people remembering him. It also allows younger generations to learn about someone they never knew before. That’s why we tell stories, so that we never forget. Boxing history is rich and full of unique characters that deserved their life to be remembered for what they did inside and outside the ring.
There are many people way more educated on this and more talented for writing those, but if there’s one boxer whose tragic passing I don’t need an anniversary to remember, it is Arturo Gatti. That’s why I decided to write a series of three articles about the career of the late action fighter.
Since the first time I saw him fight on TV when I was eight years old I never stopped talking about Arturo. For years, I would bring up Arturo in every conversation possible. Of course, people were often sick of it, and they stopped listening, so I stopped talking about him. But I never stopped thinking about him.
Well, to be completely honest, I just never managed to let him go. Because even if it is the quiet sky that lasts, you can never forget about the loud noise of the Thunder.
THE ORIGINS OF THUNDER
Arturo Gatti was born in Cassino, a little commune a hundred miles up north from Naples. He and his family would move to Montreal when Arturo was still young. Arturo’s older brother, Joe, was also a professional boxer. Joe’s nickname was “Lightning”, he fought twice for a world championship (once in 1993 and the second in 2002). Joe retired from boxing in 2002 with a record of 30 wins (22 KOs) and 8 losses. Joe was much bigger than Arturo and competed most of his career around 147 to 154 pounds. The best opponent he shared the ring with was Terry Norris. So If Joe was lightning, Arturo would be Thunder. And Thunder’s career would completely eclipse Lightning’s.
Arturo Gatti was a member of the Canadian National Team and was training for the 1992 Summer Olympic Games. Even though Arturo was a good boxer even early in his life, the amateur style definitely didn’t seem to suit him very well. Arturo fought Wayne McCullough at 105 pounds. Arturo was 16 years old. He would lose that fight in round 1 (after two standing counts, Arturo’s corner threw in the towel). Even at this age and in this short fight, you could see the heart of Arturo and the will to make it a war. The 16-year-old showed he had fast hands but his overly offensive mindset cost him against the more experienced and crafty boxer at the time. Arturo landed a few good combinations but he was countered many times by the young Irishman when he struck back instead of circling away. Arturo refused to back up in any exchanges and got his head snapped back several times.
As soon as he got hits a couple of times clean, Arturo gave up the boxing approach and just decided to throw back recklessly, which played into the game of his more composed opponent. In the final sequence of the contest, you can see Gatti throwing back many hooks despite getting hit constantly by the Irishman’s straight punches. The last two or three punches actually hurt to see in retrospect, it is an image we saw a few too many times in his career.
At the age of 19, Gatti decided to try to fight as a pro boxer, he moved to the United States and landed in Jersey City where he met boxing manager Pat Lynch. Arturo came to him and told him he wanted to become a world champion. “Not cocky but confident” is how Lynch described the young Italian. Arturo made his professional debut on June 10th, 1991, when he defeated his opponent Jose Gonzales via TKO in the third round. One month later, he would win his second pro fight via KO in the first round. The fight lasted 19 seconds. Three weeks later, Arturo would fight in Newark, New Jersey against a young Puerto Rican boxer named Richard DeJesus.
As he was announced in his corner, Arturo got a big pop from the crowd. The commentator on that fight called the 19-year-old “one half of the Gatti Brothers” and predicted a tough fight for Arturo. The fight lasted 28 seconds. It only took 14 seconds for Arturo to rock his opponent with a big right hook, followed by a 14 second flurry where Arturo missed a lot, but kept trying to find that one big opening to end the bout. The crowd was getting very loud, cheering for Arturo. After missing a lot of winding hooks upstairs, Gatti landed a right hook/left hook combo to the body that made DeJesus dip down. Then Arturo landed a vicious right uppercut right in the nose, followed by a left hook to the same place before finishing the bout with a right hand.
Eleven months in his pro career, Arturo’s record was 6-0 (5 KOs), four out of his six fights happened in New Jersey. Arturo’s fighting style earned him a lot of support from the local fans. He may have been new to the state of Jersey, but fight by fight he started to become a big fan favorite. Arturo would lose his seventh fight by split decision against King Solomon, who was more experienced (4 years pro) and came in there to outbox Arturo. This would be a learning experience for the young Gatti, who would then go on a twenty-three fight win streak.
During this long winning streak, Gatti would win 18 times by stoppage and 14 of them would happen before the 4th round. So yes, Arturo was a fast starter and almost always had a power and speed advantage.
He was also willing to take punches early on, as he was confident that his power would stop the fight quickly. Arturo was boxer-puncher and had a good fast jab, but he was fond of throwing his right hand straight and then throwing that dangerous left hook the to the body behind it. Arturo had good reflexes, too, he would often dip under the counter of his opponent and throw two other hooks to the body. Arturo liked to be in the center of the ring, and didn’t mind fighting on the backfoot a little, as he really mostly slipped punches and countered with powerful combinations.
Here in the 3rd round, he stopped Christino Suero with a vicious left hook to the body. A few seconds before, he caught Suero with a beautiful uppercut. Arturo landed a jab, then, before throwing the left hook, you can see that Arturo observed how low Suero was (as he was concerned with what would follow behind Gatti’s jab) and left his liver free to target. But Arturo did not rush it, he adjusted his feet and made sure to get the right angle and threw this final punch with all his weight behind it.
If they ever make a movie about Arturo, this time of his life would really be the “montage” where you would see Gatti winning via devastating KO, becoming the new favorite boxer in his state and getting more and more popular. Jersey really saw themselves in Arturo, he was a young confident hard worker who also loved to party during his free time, and was always putting on a show. He was on his way to become what they call “the people’s champ.”
USBA Junior Lightweight Championship
On June 28th 1994, Arturo Gatti challenged the USBA junior lightweight champion, Pete Taliaferro. The fight took place in New Jersey. As Arturo was announced in the ring with a record of now 16-1 (14 KOs) the crowd cheered so much that you can barely hear the announcer. The USBA champion had a record of 25-2 and you could also barely hear the announcer as the crowd booed him loudly. The champion was facing Arturo in his backyard for sure.
Arturo took the center of the ring and set up his jab pretty well, using a lot of double jabs and being cautious of Pete’s counters. A little after a minute in the fight Arturo took a clean right hook to the chin as he was moving in, but he ate it like it was nothing. All of sudden, Gatti changed levels, Pete dropped his left hand and Arturo landed a big right hand that sent Taliaferro to the ground.
It was somehow predictable, but that was fast. The crowd cheered for Gatti as his opponent got back up, but Arturo didn’t chase right away and stayed composed. Arturo kept the pressure on but did not get reckless until Pete was on the ropes. After a flurry, in which Arturo’s chin held up very well, he landed a second right hand that put the champion on the canvas. Taliaferro got back up a second time but with 8 seconds left on the clock in the first round, Arturo came at him with a flurry and the referee stopped the fight. The crowd exploded with joy while Arturo ran into his corner to hug Pat Lynch and his coaches.
Gatti would then defend this domestic title two times. The first time by stoppage in the tenth round vs. Richard Salazar, and the second time by unanimous decision against the former IBF super bantamweight champion, José Sanabria. The fight was a back and forth war. I highly recommend watching it. After these two defenses, Arturo relinquished the domestic belt to go chase a world championship.