• Harry Twort

Ward vs Gatti: Boxing’s finest dancing partners

On the 18th May 2002 at Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut, a welterweight fight took place that would turn out to be one of the most talked fights in boxing history.

Arturo ‘Thunder’ Gatti, who at the time of the bout had a record of 34-5 (28 Ko’s), was well known for his indescribable amount of heart, his never give up attitude and was arguably the most entertaining fighter of his generation. Gatti prior to this bout had come off a 4th round TKO win against Terron Millett on the Shane Mosley vs Vernon Forrest undercard after suffering a TKO loss himself from ‘Golden Boy’ Oscar De La Hoya 10 months prior to the Forrest fight.

Gatti’s opponent, ‘Irish’ Micky Ward had notched up a record of 37-11 (27 Ko’s) and was also notorious for his huge heart and having no quit in him. At the time of this contest, Ward had just come off a loss to former WBC World super-featherweight champion Jesse James Leija. Both fighters had certainly established themselves in the boxing world.

The fight was aired on HBO’s boxing after dark and from the get go the fight exploded into action, with the first round being far from a feeling out process. Both men landed a barrage of punches to one another however around the mid way point of the 1st round, Gatti landed a vicious left hook to open up a cut on the corner of Micky Ward's eye which sparked worry for the Ward corner but sent Arturo’s confidence sky high.

Round 2 began with Ward being the aggressor whilst Gatti came back with his own arsenal of punches and took the second round in comfortable fashion.

The 3rd round was where the fight set alight with both men competitively throwing countless body and head shots at each other to close out a much more even 3rd round, however Lederman (scoring the bout for HBO) thought Gatti had the edge.

Both fighters came out raring to go in round 4 as a Ward punch started swelling on the right eye of Arturo’s and momentarily staggered him. Similar to round 3, again the fight was very close with the warrior spirit again coming out of both brawlers, but right at the end of round 4 Ward crumbled to the canvas after a nasty looking body shot from Gatti. However, referee Frank Cappuccino ruled it a no knock down and took a point away from Gatti due to seeing the punch as a low blow.

Round 5 started out and ended with both fighters throwing all sorts at each other, sending each other’s disfigured faces into every direction possible and boxing fans in the arena and all over the world were admiring what they were witnessing.

The half way mark of the fight began and from the get go of this round it was clear Gatti went back to using his boxing brain instead of his fighting brain, as he landed an array of punches and was bobbing and weaving out of the way of the majority of Ward’s offence. It was clear too see Ward needed to re-establish and find a way to equal Gatti’s boxing brain and skills in round 7. With 6 rounds in the book, Gatti had landed over 200 punches.

Round 7 was another story of Gatti showing his dominance, landing flurries of punches on Micky Ward and it looked as if maybe Ward was falling apart towards the later stages of the fight.

Round 8 was another round which started out with Gatti out in front, but certainly didn’t end in front after towards the end stages of round 8, Ward found momentum and began teeing off at a staggered Arturo Gatti, trapping him in his own corner.

Round 9. Round 9 is the biggest reason why this fight has been given its high profile and why it has been talked about so much. It began with Ward landing a soul shattering left hook to the body of Gatti’s. You could see the grimacing look of pain on Arturo’s face and many believed at this point the fight was over, but Gatti had other ideas and used his pure grit and determination, bit down on his gumshield and put his all on the line with a battered and bruised Ward. With Ward pounding away at Gatti like a Lion chasing down its prey, Arturo came back with his own set of punches and started teeing away even more at a staggered and shattered Ward. With both men just flat out exhausted, out on their feet and emptying everything they had left in their tanks, commentator Jim Lampley said, “imagine if you’d brought a ticket” and it made you realise how lucky those in attendance really were to have witnessed this all in the flesh. As round 9 came to a close, the whole arena stood up with nothing but claps and cheers and rightly so. The best thing about it all was that it wasn’t even over yet.

The 10th and final round began with Ward one round up on HBO’s cards. The round began with both men swinging at each other again, with Gatti having the more of the success in the exchanges The final bell went and one another hugged each other thanking both for such a good fight. However, we all wanted to know the big question. Who won? Ring announcer Mark Biero read out the scores cards.... Judge Dick Flaherty scored the bout 94-93 to Ward. 2nd Judge Frank Lombardi had it 94-94 a draw. 3rd Judge Steve Weisfield scored it 95-93 with the majority decision going to ‘Irish’ Micky Ward.

This fight was tipped by pundits to be fight of the year in 2002 (which it was awarded) but this fight exceeded those expectations massively as many believe this bout was the fight of the century. After the fight, both men came into contact again at the hospital where they were being stitched up and began speaking to each other. After this fight, another two fights were made to complete the trilogy, with Gatti taking revenge and winning the two fights via unanimous decision. Micky Ward ended up retiring after the final and third fight between them both. Ward added in a later interview “Everyman has a dance partner in the ring and I believe Arturo Gatti was mine”. Both fighters became friends for life after the trilogy and Ward even went on to train Gatti towards the end of his career. On the 11th of July 2009, the great Arturo ‘Thunder’ Gatti passed away and his death was classed as suicide. However after watching countless documentaries on his death, suicide was hard to be believed as the outcome and many people to this day think Arturo was murdered in his hotel in Ipojuca, Brazil. Gatti was one of a kind and personally one of my all time favourite fighters.

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Written by Harry Twort