4:10 PM PDT, July 11, 2009
SAO PAULO -- Former boxing champion Arturo Gatti, whose epic trilogy with Micky Ward branded him one of the most exciting fighters of his generation, was found dead in a hotel room in the posh seaside resort of Porto de Galihnas early Saturday.
Police investigator Edilson Alves told the Associated Press that the body of the former junior welterweight champ was discovered in his room at the tourist resort, where Gatti had arrived on Friday with his Brazilian wife Amanda and 1-year-old son.
Alves said police were investigating and it was unclear how the 37-year-old Canadian died.
"It is still too early to say anything concrete, although it is all very strange," Alves said. He declined to provide any additional details.
A spokeswoman for the state public safety department said Gatti's wife and son were unhurt. The woman declined to give a name in keeping with department policy.
"There were no bullet or stab wounds on his body, but police did find blood stains on the floor," she said.
Brazilian boxer and four-time world champion Acelino "Popo" Freitas told the G1 website of Brazil's largest TV network Globo that he was a close friend of Gatti and his wife, and that he "knew they were having some sort of problem and were about to separate."
"I never saw a crowd show so much love for someone like the way that the crowds flocked to Arturo's fights in Atlantic City," said referee Randy Neumann, who officiated Gatti's last fight against Alfonso Gomez two years ago. "I mean, they were so into him and the crowds were electric. He just fought his heart out every fight."
A quick aside: I've had the pleasure of meeting Randy Neumann on a few occasions. He was a heavyweight contender in the 1970s, and now, in addition to being a professional referee, runs his own financial planning practice in Paramus, NJ. According to a recent article in our local paper, the Record, Neumann's son, a former college football prospect, is now starting his own pro career, managed by his father. I had planned on blogging on that, but hadn't gotten around to it. The AP article quotes Neumann again,
Gatti attempted a comeback in July 2007, getting knocked out in seven rounds by Gomez. Afterward, with his legion of fans cheering for him in the arena, Gatti announced his retirement in the dressing room at Boardwalk Hall.
Neumann said it was tough for him to end that fight, simply because of Gatti's incredible ability to come back in fights.
"I couldn't stop that fight, simply because he was Arturo Gatti," Neumann said. "He was much more dignified to go out that way. He had to be counted out. When he fought, you never knew if he could come back. He looked beaten and still came back."
Neumann is a great referee. Sometimes you've got to let a fighter get counted out, and sometimes you have stop it before it gets to that, and it takes a great referee to make that call1.
I was never a fan of Gatti -- I was pulling for the other guy in most of his fights -- but I always respected his courage. You had to -- how could you not respect the courage of a man who would keep fighting with a broken hand? May he rest in peace.
Below is a video of the 9th round of the first of three fights between Gatti and "Irish" Mickey Ward. This was probably the best round in the best fight of the trilogy, and this fight was one of the best I've ever seen. Ward, incidentally, if memory serves, was still driving a steam roller for a living in Massachusetts at the time of this fight. He got some nice paydays in the next two fights though, I think.
1I once complimented Neumann on stopping the Klitschko v. Mercer fight when he did. Mercer, the old U.S. Army champion, was "like a Sherman tank" according to Neumann. Letting him eat more of Klitschko's straight rights would have been pointless at that stage of the fight.