Arturo Gatti defined ‘tough’

Not much to add about Arturo Gatti’s death, except to say how sad it is, made even sadder as more details come to light.

Gatti’s final fight in his triology with Mickey Ward in 2003 got me back into following boxing for a while. Their fights were fierce, their friendship touching. I remember watching them share a water bottle immediately after the fight while they were both being interviewed by HBO’s Larry Merchant. You couldn’t look away from that fight. Jerry Izenberg of the Newark Star-Ledger wrote of their battles that they were “so brutal and so passionate that they could have fought inside a pay telephone booth.”

Gatti fought two of those bouts with a broken hand. That only underscored how tough this guy was, and how entertaining. For anyone with a blue-collar work ethic, whether real or inflated, Gatti showed you the real deal. For anyone trying to overcome adversity, Gatti’s actions in the ring provide a great inspiration. He fought through a painful blow to the liver, through broken hands, through swollen eyes.

More from Izenberg, who sums it up perfectly in his piece from Monday:

… New Jersey was, is and always will be the state of long-shot dreams, of hard knocks, high hopes and getting off the deck for one more shot. … It has always been this way. In urban enclaves, no matter how they change, no matter the ethnicity or the skin color or the economic status. …

In other slices of geography they succumb to the awful dirge of the Rust Belt Blues. Here we respond with the code of The Puncher’s Chance. And the fire in that determination explains who we are and why we do not store our dreams away in the closet. …

Listen to coach Bob Hurley, who was born and raised in one of those enclaves. The sound of his voice could pass for the music of North Jersey’s cities. He can explain the legend of Arturo Gatti:

”People have dreams. So do neighborhoods. They were his people. You look back when you grow up and you remember the toughest kid on the block and years later you think, ‘Well, he made it. Why not me?’ So you keep on trying. In so many ways, he is what we are sometimes, back on his heels, bleeding, hurt and then coming back again because he would not yield his Puncher’s Chance.”

Gatti was born in 1972, the same year I was, and now he’s dead at 37. Rest in peace.

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