Micky Ward and Arturo Gatti stepped into the ring together for the first time on May 18, 2002. The fight became one of the greatest in boxing history and launched one of the sport's most iconic trilogies.
Ward, an Irish-American, and Gatti, an Italian-Canadian, fought three back-to-back bouts between May 2002 and June 2003. They were the final three fights of Ward's long career. For Gatti, they carried him to a WBC Super Lightweight Title fight, which he won.
The first fight, the most iconic of the three, went to Ward after ten of the hardest rounds the ring has ever seen. The men battled back and forth, with Ward scoring a knockdown in the ninth. In combination with a point deduction for Gatti due to a low blow, the knockdown allowed the Massachusetts fighter to claim a majority decision at the end of the night.
Ward vs. Gatti was awarded fight of the year by Ring Magazine and is considered by HBO Boxing to be one of the ten greatest fights of all time.
Micky Ward vs. Arturo Gatti - the fight
In 2002, Micky Ward, a hardened club fighter from Lowell, Massachusetts, had a record of 37-11-0. He spent his whole career as a light welterweight (super featherweight) and claimed the division's WBU Title from Shea Neary in 2000.
Arturo Gatti was already a former world champion in 2002. He claimed the IBF Junior Lightweight Title from Tracy Harris Patterson, Floyd Patterson's son, in 1995. He successfully defended the title three times and, by 2002, had already been in the ring with Joey Gamache and Oscar De La Hoya. Fights with Ivan Robinson and Angel Manfredy earned 'Thunder' Gatti a near-cult following.
In 2001, Ward stepped into the ring with Emanuel Augustus, 'The Drunken Master', for a fight nearly as entertaining as the Gatti bouts. He claimed a unanimous decision over Augustus after ten rounds. Following the fight, he challenged Jesse James Leija. Leija, a tough Texan, had bouts with Shane Mosley, Oscar De La Hoya, Jeff Mayweather, and Kostya Tszyu. The fight was stopped after an accidental headbutt and Leija was awarded a technical decision.
With a loss to Leija, Ward, who was already eyeing a fight with Gatti, thought that he had blown his chance. However, the chips fell correctly and, just months later, the two men stepped into the ring together at the Mohegan Sun Casino. Before the fight itself erupted, most believed it to be little more than a minor encounter between two men who were already over the hill.
Ward vs. Gatti I is a reminder that the greatest fights are often not the heavily-marketed super-fights but the day-to-day collisions of stylistic matches. Boxing promoter Lou DiBella has since called the fight "one of the greatest nights I’ve ever been a part of" and legendary trainer Emanuel Steward called the ninth round "the round of the century."
Check out the full fight between Micky Ward and Arturo Gatti here: