Arturo Gatti’s sudden death at the age of 37 is less shocking than his sudden rise to fame in 2002. By then it was clear Gatti would never live up to his potential, would never be a world class fighter. He had fallen to Angel Manfredy, twice to Ivan Robinson, and was decimated by Oscar De La Hoya. Combined with the consitant rumors of drug abuse, it was fairly obvious that he was through as a competitive world-class fighter.
Enter Micky Ward. Another fighter past his prime, Ward had nothing to lose when he stepped into the ring to fight Gatti for the first time in Uncasville, CT. It was both men’s signature fight. Gatti had won RING Magazine’s fight of the year twice. Neither fight compared to this. The two men were like whirling dervishes, handing out punishment and happily receiving it. Two legends were made that night, even though neither will be remembered as a true great. They were throwbacks, to a time when men like Jake LaMotta graced the ring.
Ward and Gatti made millions despite being a notch below world-class. And this had a tremendous influence on the UFC and MMA as well. The Ward-Gatti fights were the template, the epitome of what Zuffa wanted from their fighters in the cage. Undercard fighters were expected to swing for the fences, eschew takedowns and boring ground fights, and always, always fight for the fans. The UFC is in many ways a promotion built on the ethos of Gatti-Ward. In the cage it was called Griffin-Bonnar, but the sentiment was the same.