The late Arturo Gatti, my all-time favorite fighter, was a stalwart of HBO’s boxing franchise for years, having engaged in several action-packed fights even before his all-time legendary trilogy with Micky Ward. Two fights after Gatti was stopped by the much bigger Oscar De La Hoya, and in the fight after Ward lost a split technical decision to James Leija,
Gatti and Ward were matched in a 10-round junior welterweight fight in a one-bout “Boxing After Dark” on their May 18, 2002 telecast. Expectations for an action fight were high, but few expected it to be one of the most epic battles in boxing history. Gatti was penalized one point in the fourth round for a low blow by referee Frank Cappuccino and then got knocked down with a hellacious body shot he incredibly survived in the ninth round, which was one of the greatest rounds in history.
The level of drama and action in the fight was off the charts and was an instant classic, which Ward won by majority decision — 95-93, 94-93 and 94-94 — in a mild upset. Had Ward not won it is unlikely there would have been two more chapters of a rivalry that began with the fighters not knowing each other and ended with them becoming best friends.
I was working for USA Today when the first fight happened and was scheduled to travel to the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut, to cover it, but a day or two before I was supposed to leave I came down with flu-like symptoms and was out of commission. I was really disappointed to miss the fight, which I watched live curled up in a ball on a bed in the guest room of my old townhouse with a fever and a cold towel on my head.
I did cover the second and third fights at ringside, but I’m still ticked off I missed the first fight. That unforgettable battle was on May 18, 2002 — 20 years ago on Wednesday. The casino made only a few site posters to hang around the property and they are extraordinarily rare. I have two of them, an unsigned one and this one autographed in gold ink by both fighters that is one of the centerpieces of my poster collection that numbers around 5,000.