Thursday, October 31, 2013

Arturo Gatti - Micky Ward: A Lifelong Friendship that Started in the Ring

Fighting brought Ward and Gatti closer together.  Photo:
Hugging between opponents is ubiquitous in professional sports -- especially boxing, football, and basketball -- where athletes have often competed with or against each other in the past. But the embraces of  Arturo "Thunder" Gatti and "Irish" Micky Ward after their three legendary fights belied something far more unique. The two didn't just share mutual respect; they loved each other.

As told in a touching documentary on HBO, their trilogy of fights brought them closer together. Ward won the first bout on May 18, 2002 in a majority decision, after which the two hugged and ended up recuperating in the same hospital together. Gatti won the second fight in November, after which the two got to know each other while still feeling the pain from the fight. In a 2010 story in Esquire, writer Chris Jones captured that moment beautifully:
They had struck up their first real conversation in the hospital waiting room after their second fight, when Ward couldn't hear out of his left ear and Gatti couldn't feel his right hand. In each other, they had found that rare man who could withstand ridiculous levels of punishment, who could see hope even through rivers of his own blood. The lumps and burns and titanium plates only reminded each man of the other's love. One day, they decided, they would do things like golf together.
Their last fight -- in June of the following year -- went the distance, with Gatti winning again by decision. The competition was fierce with both giving and taking a barrage of hits. But it was not their fight that people remember; it's their friendship that developed afterward. Gatti continued to fight and take multiple beatings, and Ward stood by his friend, working in his corner and training him for his last fight in 2007. 

In 2009, Gatti was found dead in a hotel room in Brazil while on vacation with his wife and their 10 month old son. His wife was initially arrested by police and charged with first-degree murder after police said she choked him to death with her purse strap. Less than a month later, Brazilian authorities announced the death was a suicide and released her. Among the questions raised was whether his courage and 49 fights had taken a toll on his mind.

More autopsies and investigations have been completed and the debate over whether it was a suicide or homicide continues. Ward is among those still hoping Brazilian authorities will reopen the case. But no matter what happens, their iconic rivalry and enduring friendship will live on as a testament to the power of sports and the character of two historic champions .

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