May 18, 2002: The Gatti-Ward Rivalry Begins

By James Slater - 05/18/2019 - Comments

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May 18th, Mohegan Sun Arena, Montville, Connecticut.

It was on the above date (some 17 years ago today) at the above venue when two of the most incredibly willing, and tough, and gutsy 140 pound fighters met for the first time. It was Arturo Gatti against Mickey Ward – and it was special. Very special. Unforgettably special.

What can be written about the Gatti-Ward trilogy that hasn’t been already been scribed? No-one who saw the three ten round non-title fights will ever forget them. The first fight was the best of the lot. Somehow, though, the two gutsy warriors managed to survive each other’s most fearsome assaults for a total of thirty rounds. Fight two may have been less violent than the initial bout, but fight three made up for it.

During the most intense thirty rounds of boxing action seen in the 1990s, there were broken bones, swollen eyes and mouths, bruised ribs, a busted eardrum, knockdowns, almost impossible comebacks, constantly switching momentums, lots of screaming – from both the fans AND the commentators, and value for money like we’ve rarely seen. Without a doubt, these three 140 pound fights, all non-title affairs, were battles for the ages.

For the record, as if there are any fans that don’t know, Ward won fight one, Gatti fights two and three. But it may well have been the first slugfest that thrilled fans the most. Round Nine alone was utterly mesmerising. Fellow pros, when watching this round all these years later, still get, as Jamie Moore once put it, shivers down the spine for all three minutes of the round. Indeed, it took a lot for the late, great Emanuel Steward to lose his composure and bellow into the microphone; yet this is what the Kronk guru did when calling this stupendous fight: “That should be the round of the century!” Emanuel declared at the conclusion of that hellacious ninth.

Both men became firm friends after going to hell with each other; Ward even working with Gatti in some of his fights afterwards, and there was never any trash-talk before, during or after either of the three fights. None was needed. Nor was there a call for any hype. These fights were FIGHTS: gritty, fearsome fire-fights. Nobody, not even the most hard-nosed critic can aim any criticism at these 30 rounds of beautiful violence.

There have been bigger trilogies in boxing, maybe there have even been harder-fought trilogies. But part of the beauty surrounding Gatti Vs. Ward I, II and III is the fact that the two men gave their all, in rapid succession (three fights back-to-back in just over 12 months), with no phony belts on the line and they did it for comparatively little money. It’s often a tired cliché when fighters say they “did it for the fans.”

Not in this case.