Happy Birthday, Micky Ward: Memory of the War from Gatti who started a trilogy | Micky Ward | Arturo Gatti | Boxing | Floyd Mayweather
The word warrior is used so easily in boxing that it has lost some of its impact. While each person brave enough to step into the square circle deserves immense credit, there are some fighters that truly transcend bravery to become warriors in the gladiatorial sense. Those who are willing to sacrifice everything not only to compete but to succeed, and not just to succeed but to conquer. “Irish” Micky Ward is one of those warriors, and on his 56th birthday we celebrate the first time he has met a man in the same fabric. This is the story of Micky Ward against Arturo Gatti.
You may be familiar with the name Micky Ward from the excellent 2010 movie The Fighter. Mark Wahlberg describes the fighter as a Bostonian Rocky Balboa, battling personal and family issues to win the welterweight world championship and send happy bettors home. As with many biopics, this was a slight hijacking of the truth. Although Ward won a WBU belt during his career, it was never considered a legitimate world championship. Nor was it his biggest achievement, which was due to come after The Fighter’s cameras left Ward’s story, when he shared 30 of the most brutal rounds in boxing history with Arturo. Gatti.
At a time when unbeaten records are prized above all else and when boxing “experts” on social networks are eager to accumulate any fighter who does not reach perfection, it is difficult to make it clear the importance of these fights. The first Ward-Gatti meeting, at the Mohegan Casino in Connecticut, did not jump out as a world-class attraction on paper. Instead, the fight headlined an edition of the HBO Boxing After Dark side show. Both men were known to be in exciting fights, but both had lost recently. Ward had just suffered a fifth round loss to Jesse James Leija, while Gatti was only one fight away from being knocked out by Oscar De La Hoya. Make no mistake, the first Gatti-Ward fight was all about rebuilding rather than upsetting the top of the world rankings.
This context served to make what followed in the ten rounds all the more remarkable. These weren’t two men fighting to improve their ranking or their situation, they were two men fighting for their lives. ‘Thunder’ at least started off with the pretext of wanting to stick with his boxing, taking an early lead with quick combinations as Ward trudged forward in search of something concussive. The Boston fighter was cut in the first round, just the first of multiple war wounds these two fighters would inflict on each other.
An illegal low blow would have fallen on Ward in the fourth, Gatti would be cut in the fifth. Dicky Eklund, portrayed in all his fragile glory by Christian Bale in theaters, has warned his local brother he won’t let the beating continue. “Irishman” Micky answered the call by hammering the former world champion, as Gatti’s first bursts took a toll on his endurance. The ninth round would elevate this fight from a great heartbreak to an enduring classic, to be reviewed and recommended for the rest of the time.
Just 15 seconds into the lap, Ward threw lefts to the head and body, which brought Gatti to his knees. ‘Thunder’ rose, but was at the receiving end of all ‘Irish’ artillery, and the end seemed to be seconds away. Incredibly, illogically, under Ward’s constant barrage, Arturo Gatti found the will to strike back. And he fought back, pushing his executioner up the ropes, discharging with vast oscillating punches, throwing his entire body ravaged by the pain behind each blow. Now the two men were just swinging towards the fences, trying to level each other with the kind of punches they don’t teach you in boxing. After seeing the initiative slip away from him, Ward found the willpower to rip it off with a white grip, causing Gatti’s head to roll onto his shoulders, back and forth as the fight ended. But Gatti reached the bell and the final round waved.
Painfully, miscommunication led Ward to celebrate as if he had won, believing Gatti had been arrested in his corner. Bad luck, these two true warriors would have to cross the fire again to achieve immortality. The two had their successes in a final round that would be the highlight of any other fight, but was actually a drop in pace for this incredible clash. Still, the punches flew with remarkable speed as the bell rang, 30 seconds earlier due to a timing error. Ward would get the go-ahead by majority decision, but fights like this don’t have losers. They have a triumph and a greater triumph. They bring two men into the collective consciousness of boxing, bound forever by the bloody violence they inflicted on themselves.
Ward and Gatti would fight two more times. Although neither of the two fights reached the astonishing heights of the first, both fights were wonderful affairs. Two fighters who found the idea of a step back personally insulting, their styles never failed to mesh. Gatti would win both the rematch and the trilogy fight, but neither man could stop the other. In 30 split rounds, the pair came back from the brink to avoid a stoppage, having their dreams killed and resurrected in the steadfast pursuit of victory.
Micky Ward would retire after Gatti’s third fight, having earned his career-best salary for the trilogy and left as a millionaire. ‘Thunder’ would rumble, capturing the WBC light welterweight championship along the way. In his last fight, a seventh-round TKO loss to Alfonso Gomez, he was cornered by Ward. A bad night in the ring, but a fun bit of symmetry, and a wonderful sign of respect between the two big rivals. Gatti would tragically die two years later from a suspected suicide, and Ward attended the funeral. Apparently he gave the casket a loving last left hook. In a career defined by their common one-upmanship, the mourning Irishman Micky Ward could not resist the urge to land the last punch.