1000 Fights: Ward-Gatti I

Photo: Will Hart

Photo: Will Hart

This Saturday, HBO Boxing airs its 1,000th fight. To commemorate the occasion, HBO Boxing Insiders selected their favorite fights from the HBO catalog and wrote about them.

May 18, 2002

By Eric Raskin

I should be sick of writing about the trilogy between Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward by now. You should be sick of reading about it by now. But that would be like getting sick of looking at pictures of puppies or of eating chocolate ice cream or of watching Adrien Broner get punched; there are some things that just never stop being delightful.

The first battle between Ward and Gatti, on May 18, 2002 at Mohegan Sun, is my favorite of HBO’s first 1,000 fights, for reasons both personal and universal.

First, the personal: Boxing writers aren’t supposed to have “favorite” fighters, but—I hope you’re sitting down as you read this—we all do. Gatti was my first favorite fighter after I started covering boxing. Ward was the only fighter ever to surpass him. They still rank numbers one and two for me after all these years … I was fortunate enough to attend all three fights of their trilogy, which admittedly means I might be a little biased when favoring Ward-Gatti I over a fight like Diego Corrales-Jose Luis Castillo I, which I did not attend in person … I came away with little memories that TV viewers couldn’t have, like an excited Lou DiBella elbowing me in the ribs during a Ward rally, like Buddy McGirt attempting to stop the fight in round nine but going unnoticed by referee Frank Cappuccino, like standing in an empty arena with other boxing writers for a while after everything was over because we simply didn’t want to leave and move on to whatever comparatively dull and meaningless day awaited us next … I was The Ring’s representative at the iconic cover photo shoot of Gatti and Ward holding baseball bats; I even had one of the bats signed by both fighters in my possession until I (regrettably?) auctioned it off for charity … And odd as it sounds, I might not have met my wife if not for the adrenaline after Gatti-Ward III keeping me up late that night (long story, not worth explaining here).

Now, the universal: The combined heart and guts displayed by Ward and Gatti is perhaps equaled elsewhere but certainly not surpassed by any other fight in history … Round nine is, if not the greatest three minutes in boxing history, certainly on any top-five list worth a damn … You can’t top the dramatic swings: Gatti builds a small lead, Ward closes the gap, Gatti builds another lead, Ward again closes the gap and nearly knocks Gatti out, Zombie Gatti somehow rallies in the final round to leave the drama intact and everybody guessing as the scorecards are read … And the calls from the HBO broadcast crew: “Gatti’s gonna survive the round!” “This should be the Round of the Century!” “You can stop it anytime, Frank.” “You dream of fights like this, but very seldom do they live up to the expectation. This is even more than you can dream of!” “Can you believe there’s still a minute and half to go in the round?” “It is man against man in there.” “I am humbled by watching these two guys take the punishment they are taking.”

I’ve probably watched Ward-Gatti I from start to finish 25 or 30 times over the years. Every single time, I, like Larry Merchant, am humbled by it. HBO has aired plenty of classics among its first thousand fights, but none of them thrill and move me quite like this one.