20 Years Ago Today: THE Trilogy Is Complete – Gatti Vs. Ward III

By James Slater - 06/07/2023 - Comments

THE trilogy? Maybe. You could certainly make the argument, passionately, that the three-fights (see wars) Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward thrilled the world with rank as the best in all of boxing. Now, that’s a big claim, for sure, and we must never, ever forget or denigrate the specialness of the following:

The great trilogy all-time legends Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier gave us. The trilogy Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales gave us. The three fights Jeff Harding and Dennis Andries gave us (this light heavyweight rivalry one of the most savage yet at the same time underrated of the lot). The trilogy Ali and Ken Norton gave us. The three huge fights Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran gave us (the first fight an astonishingly thrilling battle). The brutal trilogy Tony Zale and Rocky Graziano gave the sport.

But there is no denying the fact that the chemistry, the blend of magic, the equally formidable fighting styles Gatti and Ward took to the ring was/is and always will be deeply ingrained in the hearts and minds of all fight fans. And Gatti and Ward were as tough as each other, they were as utterly determined as each other. 30 rounds of intense warfare – or “Intimate Warfare” to use the title of one of the finest boxing books ever written – with both men going to a place no mere mortal could possibly comprehend.

No titles were on the line in either fight. It didn’t matter. No trinket would have added anything to this rivalry, to this trilogy. This was fighting at its best. For pride, for honour, for money of course, but not that much considering the blood and guts Gatti and Ward spilled.

Go back to June of 2003, and Gatti, AKA “The Human Highlight Reel,” and Ward, AKA “Irish Micky,” were 1-1, with each man winning a ten round decision over the other. There just had to be a deciding fight. And so it came, with both warriors earning a $1 million payday, the finale of THE trilogy taking place at The Boardwalk in Atlantic City, this the scene of the second fight between Gatti and Ward.

The first fight, which took place in Montville, Connecticut, in May of 2002, may never be topped, the back-and forth warfare engaged in by these two lay it all on the line fighters perhaps containing the greatest, most astonishing round in modern day boxing, this that sensational ninth round. But fights two and three were also great.

The final fight was crammed full of drama. And, like the first fight, it began with Gatti boxing and moving on his toes. Before Ward dragged his perfect dance partner into a slugfest.

Gatti, sweeping the opening three rounds, hurt his hand badly in the fourth session, this when he slammed his right fist into Ward’s hip. Gatti was left wincing, and fighting for his career. During the break between rounds four and five, Gatti’s trainer Buddy McGirt, his charge having told him about his busted hand, asked Gatti if he wanted to fight on. You’re damn right he did!

And so the war raged on. Ward, cut above the left eye, decked Gatti with a right hand in round six and the fight was now one either man may win. The final three rounds were sizzling, with both men trading in a firefight that had the attending fans in a state of fever. This is how it had to end, with Gatti and Ward slugging it out to the final bell. And then, after embracing, the two gladiators waited for the decision of the three judges.

It was perhaps surprisingly wide on one card as well as quite wide on the two other cards – 97-92, 96-93, 96-93, all for Gatti.

The two men had been through something special, while at the same time they had given the watching world something that would never be forgotten, and a genuine bond had been formed. Ward, as good as his word, retired afterwards. Gatti fought on, with Ward training him for a while.

Ward is still with us, sharing his unique memories of Gatti, helping to keep his rival turned friend’s legacy alive. Gatti as we all know, died at the young age of 37, this in 2009. But Gatti’s almost unbelievable fights will live forever. His three titanic battles with Micky Ward especially.