Is Arturo Gatti a Hall of Famer?

arturo gattiBy Anthony Coleman: That is the question that the entire boxing world has seemingly pondered over the past two years and it is one of the few topics that has totally divided it. The debate over Gatti’s potential induction into the Halls of Canastota from both his detractors and defenders is filled with the passion you usually see before a boxing match between fighters of rival countries. The funny thing is that the argument over Gatti’s Hall of Fame qualifications is likely to continue even if he were to gain induction. The topic is that polarizing.

The arguments presented by both sides of the Gatti Hall of Fame controversy represent the discussion of style over greatness; or to be more precise genuine-greatness versus excitement-and-great-memories. Sadly, what is most unsurprising is that the people on both sides of the debate refuse to consider both the relationship between great fighters and great fights in regards to Gatti’s Hall of Fame case. That is unfortunate because the two elements has greatly influenced the history of our sport and this discussion shouldn’t be dominated by both sides foaming at the mouth, disdainful to the other person’s opinion. Both arguments should thoroughly be taken into consideration before Gatti’s name appears on the ballot.

The Case against Arturo:

It doesn’t take much thinking to understand why so many are against Gatti’s potential induction into the Hall of Fame: they simply feel that based on his record he is not a hall of fame quality boxer. Quite frankly I totally agree; Gatti was most certainly not a great fighter. In fact if we’d based his Hall of Fame induction solely on his record it would be absurd. In his career Gatti:

-Never dominated a division or won an undisputed title

-Didn’t win world titles in multiple Weight classes

-Lost 9 times in 50 fights

-Never beat a pound for pound level fighter

Many of Gatti’s diehard fans are probably fuming over my second point, citing that he held the IBF version of the 130 pound title and the WBC version of the 140 pound title as well. But lets be real: Gatti truthfully only held one title in his career, the 130 pound strap. The WBC junior Welterweight crown he won in 2004 was a paper title because the real champion; Kostya Tszyu was unfairly stripped of the title. Some will claim that it is not Gatti’s fault that Tszyu was a victim of politics and it shouldn’t be held over Gatti’s head, but it doesn’t matter. His title was fraudulent because he was not the real champ so his title reign at 140 should be recognized as illegitimate.

So in his career Gatti won exactly one world title, at Junior Lightweight and his reign will not be remembered as one of the great runs in the history of that division. Unlike most of the weight classes that weren’t a member of the original 8, the 130 pound division has an illustrious history. In fact it is the most prestigious division of the new weight classes. I’ll even go one step further; it is probably more prestigious than the Flyweight division (one of the original 8). If you stack Gatti’s run in the division and his reign as IBF champion it clearly isn’t on par with that of Alexis Arguello, Julio Cesar Chavez, Azumah Nelson, and Floyd Mayweather Jr.Also, Gatti’s run doesn’t stack up to Genaro Hernandez or Brian Mitchell’s title reigns and they have yet to see induction.

At 130, Gatti’s big wins were against Tracy Patterson (twice), Wilson Rodriguez and Gabriel Ruelas. Of those wins Patterson was unquestionably the most accomplished and his best days was as at 122 pounds and it speaks volumes of his talent that he was able to skip a weight class to win a title at 130. Gatti’s back to back wins over Patterson can’t be sneezed at. However while Rodriguez and Ruelas were both good fighters they weren’t exactly excellent fighters. Then that’s it. In his reign as the IBF super featherweight champion Gatti only made 3 defenses of his title. That is an extremely low total for a one time world titlist. And unlike a Sonny Liston, who made only one defense of the heavyweight championship, he never dominated the division before winning the title. Gatti was simply a very good junior lightweight, but certainly not a great one.

Furthermore, his list of quality wins after relinquishing his title and moving up in weight isn’t noteworthy. As a lightweight he lost all of his fights, and as a 140 pounder he holds victories over Jesse James Leijia, Terron Millet, Gianluca Branco and of two wins over Mickey Ward. However, if you look at his record under a microscope you could see that his record wasn’t all that great. Millet was a shot fighter by the time they faced in 2003. Jesse James Leijia was another gray beard. Branco is as ordinary a boxer as you’ll find on the planet. Plus, and I know this will get under the skin of Gatti’s diehard fans but Mickey Ward was just a decent but far from championship caliber fighter. While Ward was tough and had a hell of a left hook to the body, he also had horrible defense and eleven losses on his ledger when they fought for the first time.

And that’s it. Those are Gatti’s big wins. He never beat a future Hall of Famer or a boxer who was anywhere near Pound for Pound. He didn’t clean out his division like Joe Calzaghe or Bernard Hopkins did. He had a few big wins over decent to mediocre competition and one championship reign. For a fighter being considered for Professional Boxing’s highest honor that is a huge strike against him.

And those are just his wins. We still have yet to discuss his nine losses. In his career Gatti lost to:

-King Solomon

-Angel Manfredy

-Ivan Robinson (X2)

-Oscar De La Hoya

-Mickey Ward

-Floyd Mayweather

-Carlos Baldomir

-Alfonso Gomez

First we need to put some of his losses in their proper prospective. His first loss against Solomon came early in his pro career. Quite a few boxers lost fights early in their careers but came back to put together hall of fame careers (Bernard Hopkins, Alexis Arguello, Carlos Monzon, and Henry Armstrong are names that immediately come to mind). His losses to Baldomir, Gomez, and De La Hoya were all a result of him being a spent bullet or cast in the role of a hugely undersized sacrificial lamb. Also you may want to give Gatti points if you thought he won his first fight with Ward (as many thought he did). So right there are four (or five) losses in which Gatti has an adequate excuse.

However, that still accounts for four other fights on Gatti’s ledger. He was stopped on cuts by a good, but limited fighter who saw his best days as a 130 pounder in Angel Manfredy. Then he lost two consecutive fights to Ivan Robinson. The losses to Robinson were shocking. In fact the first defeat was so shocking that it won Ring Magazine’s “Upset of the Year award” in 1998. Also I will not gladly excuse his loss to Mayweather like I did for the other ones. Gatti was on a five fight winning streak and facing a fighter in Mayweather who was essentially smaller than he was. Both started out their careers as 130 pounders, but the difference between the two were as follows. Gatti was an oversized boxer for the division who somehow made weight then ballooned twenty pounds between the weigh in and the fight. Mayweather was a natural 130 pounder, and while towards the end of his reign found it difficult to make weight, never gained 20 pounds in between the weigh in and the fight. And just like in the De La Hoya drubbing, Gatti wasn’t even competitive, getting hammered from pillar to post until the fight was mercifully stopped after the 6th round.

Whether your opinion on Gatti is, the fact remains the same: Gatti at his best got blown out by a future hall of famer, and was defeated by a good and an average fighter. Which means in 49 total fights, Gatti’s win loss record essentially reflects a fighter who was good but nowhere near pound for pound level.

The other point that Gatti’s detractors brings up is the fact that he is nowhere near being one of the best fighters of his era, and once again I totally agree. In fact if you sat down and considered the boxers who fought in Gatti’s prime who were better than he was the list is sprawling. Here are the fighters, in no particular order, who I know had better records and were just flat out more talented than Gatti.

-Roy Jones

-Bernard Hopkins

-Juan Manuel Marquez

-Rafael Marquez

-Evander Holyfield

-Lennox Lewis

-James Toney

-Israel Vazquez

-Floyd Mayweather

-Joe Calzaghe

-Oscar De La Hoya

-Felix Trinidad

-Marco Antonio Barrera

-Erik Morales

-Manny Pacquiao

-Johnny Tapia

-Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson

-Wladimir Klitschko

-Shane Mosley

-Winky Wright

-Ike Quartey

-Vernon Forest

-Jose Luis Castillo

-Diego Corrales

-Ricardo Lopez

-Prince Naseem Hamed

-Zab Judah

-Genaro Hernandez

-Antonio Tarver

-Glen Johnson

-Joel Casamayor

-Kostya Tszyu

That’s 32 names. 32 freaking names! It’s one thing to be not one of the top ten fighters of his generation, but 32 damn fighters were clearly better than him (if somebody wishes to argue against my claim I’d gladly oblige.) That is a huge, preposterous figure and that is a damning mark against Gatti’s hall of fame chances.

Plus if you look at the names on the list they include fighters who might not get called into the Hall of Fame. Two of those fighters, Zab Judah and Prince Naseem Hamed, are the most interesting cases. Much like Gatti, Hamed is a hotly debated Hall of Fame candidate whose case has been badly damaged because of the marks against him. He avoided his WBO mandatory, Juan Manuel Marquez, for 2 years. Then he lost a wide unanimous decision to Marco Antonio Barrera. Also, he turned off most of the Hall-of-Fame voters by behaving like an arrogant douche-bag and demonstrating technique so poor that it made Jermain Taylor look like Salvador Sanchez.

Yet we can’t deny that when he was at his best from 1994-2000, Hamed was a dominant pound-for-pound champion. While he wasn’t recognized as such, when he met Barrera back in 2001, he clearly was the undisputed Featherweight champion of the world. He KO’d Steve Robinson and Tom Johnson respectively for the WBO and IBF titles, decisioned Cesar Soto for the WBC crown and he defeated Wilfredo Vazquez in 1998. Vazquez was unfairly stripped of his WBA crown for fighting Hamed. Hamed also may get votes from voters for the fact that he may have been the best puncher in boxing during his championship reign. You can say all you want about his lack of fundamentals or hate him for his attitude, but at his best Hamed was dominant and he has a much better claim for greatness than Gatti.

Zab Judah is a name that many boxing fans will probably sneer at and for good reason. Much like Hamed he rubbed fans and writers the wrong way with his attitude inside and outside the ring, plus he is a very technically flawed fighter. Judah will probably not see induction into the hall; however, based on pure raw talent and ring record, I think that Judah was better than Gatti’s. He was a titlist at 140 pounds and was good enough to go up in weight and win the undisputed Welterweight title from Cory Spinks. Those accomplishments are superior to anything Gatti ever did in his career.

Plus forget about his contemporaries for a moment. What about some of the fighters before Gatti’s time who have yet to see induction into the hall, or the young up and comers from this era? Are some of those guys better than Gatti? The answer: Hell yeah!

From this era, young guns like Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto, Juan Diaz and the recently defeated Mikkel Kessler have done more in their young careers than Gatti in his 49 fight career. Diaz recently unified ¾ of the Lightweight title. Ricky Hatton won the 140 pound title in 2005 by beating Kostya Tszyu and won Ring Magazine’s “Fighter of The Year.” Miguel Cotto has been a title holder for 3 years and has beat respectable a line of respectable fighters. And Kessler officially unified half of the 168 pound division before his ill-fated encounter with Joe Calzaghe. If you were basing Hall-of-Fame induction purely off ring accomplishments then it would be absurd to let Gatti in before these outstanding young fighters.

Also, I’ve already mentioned, fighters from the era predating Gatti’s have yet to see induction despite Hall of Fame credentials. Perhaps the most obvious and omission is former 130 pound champion Brain Mitchell. Mitchell made 13 defenses of his WBA title and towards the end of his career unified half of the title by defeating IBF titlist from Tony Lopez. To be honest the fact that Mitchell hasn’t seen induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame is absurd. His mere absence cheapens the Hall’s honor. Gatti has absolutely no business seeing induction before Mitchell.

Gatti also shouldn’t be inducted over Danny Lopez or Julian Jackson. I find it quite odd that we are discussing Gatti’s candidacy despite the fact that Lopez and Jackson were both known for exciting boxing fans and accomplished more in their careers than Gatti ever could dream of.

Danny Lopez was considered the Gatti of the late 70’s because of his ability make so many great fights. He also amazed fans with his punching power and his 39 Knockouts in 42 victories is one of the greatest KO records in boxing history. Yet what really sticks out is the fact that he made 8 defenses of his Featherweight title, one of the highest totals in the history of that division. Also before he won the belt, he held a KO victory over Hall-of-Famer Ruben Olivares. Though Olivares had recently lost his Featherweight title for a second time before the fight, he still was a very good fighter and his legendary punching power was still present. Yet Lopez was able to get up from two early knockdowns, walk through Olivares’ best punches and stop him late. That victory over an old past his prime Olivares is still superior to any of Gatti’s 40 wins. How come Lopez isn’t in the Hall yet despite being every bit as exciting as Gatti while holding a superior record?

Julian Jackson, like Lopez delighted fans with his awesome punching power. Even to this day you’re likely to see boxing fans on message boards arguing that he was the greatest puncher in the sport has ever produced. His KO’s over Herol Graham and Hall of Famer Terry Norris are considered two of the best KO’s ever. Jackson also had title reigns at Junior Middleweight and Middleweight. In total Jackson made seven defenses of his titles, four more than Gatti. I have a hard time granting Gatti induction over Jackson as well.

Those are just a few names I listed, and consider these other boxers. Simon Brown made seven defenses of his Welterweight title and partially unified the divison by Ko’ing Maurice Blocker. He has yet to gain induction despite being eligible for quite some time. Donald Curry was the undisputed Welterweight champ in the mid 80’s and just like Brown, made 8 defenses of his title. He hasn’t been inducted as well either, and again there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that they were superior fighters than Gatti.

The amount of information I’ve covered should really force Gatti’s supporters to really be objective about his Hall of Fame case. It is not just the fact that Gatti’s record isn’t indicative of a great fighter or that he was not among the best boxers of his era. It is the fact that he is no where near a great fighter and there are literally dozens of boxers who have came along in the past fifteen years who were flat out better than he was. Even if we just neglect his contemporaries, the fact that we know certain champions of the past and young pound for pound players of the present have stronger Hall-of-Fame cases should be reason enough for us to question if the mere discussion potential induction to the International Boxing Hall of Fame is a joke. It probably wouldn’t damage Gatti’s case if all the fighters I listed were locks for the Hall. But as I noted some of these guys may not or will never see induction despite the fact that their claims for greatness is far better than Gatti’s claim. So we must ask ourselves again: Is Gatti a Hall-of-Famer?

The Case for Arturo:

Yet despite Gatti’s mediocre ring record, Gatti’s supporters have an made a very logical argument for why his name should be listed in the same Canastota building along with the names of Muhammad Ali and Ray Robinson. Their claim is that while Gatti was most certainly not a great fighter, his importance to the game was immense because he constantly put on great fights. You know what, I have to agree.

While there were better fighters in his era, most of those guys weren’t no where near as important to the sport than Gatti. In a time when boxing lacked true marquee ticket sellers, Gatti consistently drew big crowds at New Jersey’s boardwalk and he drew high ratings for his bouts on HBO. Because of his drama and action filled fights, Gatti always practically loved by all boxing fans and that is something that can’t be said for all great fighters.

Let’s be real for a second: if all boxers fought like Bernard Hopkins or Floyd Mayweather then boxing would be a dead sport. Gatti provided us with many of the great memories of the past fifteen years. Who could forget his Genie-out-of-the-Bottle KOs of Ruelas and Rodriguez? What about round 9 in first fight with Micky Ward in which Gatti was so very close to being stopped but somehow fought back and survived the round? Whether you thought he was overrated or not, Gatti left all boxing fans exhilarated and cheering at the top of their lungs. Most fighters of his time probably wish that they were as embraced by the public as Gatti was in his prime.

Gatti’s popularity over his superior contemporaries is crystallized on the night of his first war with Micky Ward. Everybody remembers the violent exchanges and the aforementioned unforgettable round 9. Yet few fans remember that same night, Kostya Tszyu, the undisputed 140 pound champ and top five pound for pounder had put together one of his all-time best performances when he shut out Ben Tackie. Gatti-Ward I will forever be remembered while most fans would have to look up on Box Rec to even prove that Tszyu-Tackie even happened. In short, in the eyes of most fans Gatti represented why they loved boxing. He was the one fighter who, whether he won or loss, always guaranteed to have the fans admiration.

When fans and historians speak on Boxing history the first thing we discuss are the great fighters. Literally hundreds of thousands of words have been written in reverence about the amazing talent of Ali, Duran and Robinson. However the same fans and historians also express as much enthusiasm for the great moments and fights in boxing history. This means that boxing’s transcendent fights and moments are just as important as its greatest pugilists, and in recent memory Arturo “Thunder” Gatti was the undisputed champion of great fights and memories. These facts cannot be denied.

These truths also bring us back to the original question: is Gatti a Hall of Famer. Afterall his name and his fights have been so important to the history and mythology of this great sport that it almost feels in the minds of his fans that it would be unfair to him to not honor him for all the good that he has given this sport. So while Gatti’s detractors have legitimate reasons to believe that his Hall of Fame case is dubious, they should also observe all the great fights he has given them before they make their final decision for the “Blood and Guts Warrior.”

The Verdict:

I have gone over this question thousands of times in my brain, but I have come to my decision. I have absolutely no problem in seeing Gatti getting inducted into the Hall-of-Fame. While he was far from a great fighter, the memories he has provided this sport is innumerable. His induction wouldn’t be as odious as Ingemar Johansson’s or Jose Torres’. However, with that being said, I honestly feel that Gatti shouldn’t be inducted into the Hall-of-Fame over far more deserving candidates. It was already a shame when Barry Mcguinnan saw induction over Brian Mitchell and Danny Lopez. If Gatti makes it in over guys like the aforementioned Mitchell, Lopez, Brown, Jackson, Curry or even Marlon Starling I would once again question the Hall-of-Fame’s legitimacy. Or maybe all of this controversy would be solved if we created two Halls: one to honor the truly great boxers and the other to honor the fighters we gave a damn about. Maybe then we can close the great divide over the Gatti controversy.

Article posted on 02.02.2008

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