When The Thunder Stopped: The Final Fight Of Arturo Gatti

15 years ago today, the most exciting boxer of a generation fought for the final time
22:05, 14 Jul 2022

Great boxers rarely get the ending they deserve. There are the rare exceptions. Lennox Lewis going through hell to retain his WBC heavyweight championship against a furious and on-form Vitali Klitschko. Joe Calzaghe having the time of his life show-boating against Roy Jones Jr. Rocky Marciano’s spectacular KO of Archie Moore in their 1955 classic. But for most boxers their last fight is an ignominious ending. A sport as brutal as boxing lends itself to sudden, damaging and cruel farewells. Such a fate befell the iconic Arturo ‘Thunder’ Gatti 15 years ago today, as he stepped through the ropes for the final time.

Gatti was looking to recover from defeat when he took on Alfonso Gomez on 14th July 2007. It was a situation he knew well. Gatti was not a fighter whose appeal hinged on his win-loss record. The Italian-Canadian was 40-8 going into the Gomez fight, after all. But Gatti’s immense popularity came not from being a dazzling ring scientist like Floyd Mayweather, who had pounded him to defeat two years before. No, ‘Thunder’ was and remains a legendary figure in the sport of boxing because of the visceral excitement he brought every time he laced up the gloves.


The unforgettable trilogy that bonded him to Micky Ward for life, as opponents and later as close friends, immediately springs to mind. So too his electric warfare with Ivan Robinson over two bouts, his exhilarating rumble with the enigmatic Emmanuel Augustus and his short, sharp shock of a bout with Gabriel Ruelas. Gatti would win world titles at two weights and pick up impressive scalps such as Jesse James Leija, Gianluca Branco and Tracy Harris Patterson along the way. But it was the warrior nature within Gatti, and the torrid slugfests that it necessitated, that made the great man stand out. Plenty of fighters won titles. No one won or defended them like Arturo Gatti.

But by the time the 35-year-old Gatti faced off with Gomez, he was no longer a world champion. His WBC light welterweight title had been left in Mayweather’s possession after that six-round beating. An attempt to wrest Carlos Baldomir’s WBC, The Ring and lineal championships up at welterweight had met a violent end in nine one-sided rounds. Arturo Gatti’s time at world championship level looked to be over.

It seemed like Alfonso Gomez was the perfect opponent for Gatti at this stage. The likable but limited star of boxing reality series The Contender came equipped with a very moderate 16-3-2 record. His good-natured personality and bravery in the ring had made him a hit on the Sylvester Stallone-hosted show, but he had never mixed in anything approaching world class before. An all-action fighter, it was thought Gatti would be able to showcase what brought him to the dance against a hittable fighter willing to engage him in war. It turned out Gomez was willing to do that but, as it transpired, that was actually a bad thing for ‘Thunder’ Gatti.

In the opening stanza, the warrior spirit that has burned inside Gatti for so long shows. He suffers more give-and-take than he should against a fighter of Gomez’s quality, sure, but he’s in there and pitching. A ripped left hook shakes Gomez’s step for a while, moving him momentarily off-balance. A decent right hand down the pipe shows the instincts of old. But all too quickly, this promising start diminishes. Before the round is even through Gatti is eating left hooks like a painful buffet, feasting on one after another. He looks befuddled in the same way he did when Mayweather or Oscar De La Hoya outboxed him in past title fights. But he’s not in with a future Hall of Famer, he’s in with a fighter he would have eaten alive five years before.

The gulf in class becomes more evident, but in the opposite direction to the pre-fight predictions. Gomez bulls forward, leaving Gatti to uncharacteristically box off the back foot. Sensing ‘Thunder’ is overcompensating to avoid the left that hurt him in the first round, Gomez begins finding a home for some punishing right leads and hooks. The second sees Gatti rattle off combinations that hit nothing, the timing gone, before Gomez calmly lands his work. 

The pattern continues from here on in. Gatti gets a decent left uppercut through in the third but little else, as Gomez changes the attack up from head to body. The fourth sees Gomez unleash a combination straight out of the boxing textbook, and his illustrious opponent simply has no answer. A piercing jab shatters Gatti’s guard before a brutal right cross, another left and three consecutive, thudding straight rights rattle the legendary warrior’s skull. Gatti recovers, resilience always his strong suit, but he never gets close to being back in the fight. 

Gomez quietens a Gatti charge with punishing body work in the fifth. The veteran is still throwing punches, but the possibilities of those blows are lost to the night air through which they hopelessly flail. In the sixth Gatti improbably avoids a series of Gomez shots before aping the Ali shuffle. One cannot help but smile. The final bit of impetuous and infectious spirit Gatti showed in a ring. The mind wanders to sadness at the fact we do not get to see this most fascinating of men around the sport today.

The twinkle in Gatti’s eye is gone in the final round. He transitions from the artful dodger image of prime Ali that he tried to portray in the previous round to the shattered facsimile of ‘The Greatest’ that Larry Holmes toyed with in 1980. Gomez can’t miss now. This is disconcerting, even for long-time Gatti followers who know how many punches he took even in victory. The difference between this and his three immortal fights with Ward is that, here, Gatti is throwing nothing back.

Every shot appears to hurt the ailing icon. He is forced back onto the ropes with minimal fuss and maximum force. The referee lets it go far longer than he should. The official has somehow conned himself into thinking the old Gatti is in there somewhere, waiting with the punch that would turn the tide on another big fight night in Atlantic City. But this isn’t that Arturo Gatti. The Gatti currently trying furiously to clinch, something he rarely ever even considered in his exhilarating pomp, is a different fighter entirely. A single brutal right hand ends it. Gatti is down. Gatti is out. Gatti is finished.

This ending has done nothing to blunt the legend of Arturo ‘Thunder’ Gatti. His untimely death in 2009 due to an apparent but disputed suicide was a horrifying conclusion to a life that had inspired so many. If any fighter deserved a long dotage spent regaling fans and friends with tales of his spectacular pomp it was Gatti. In terms of both Gatti’s life and career it is important not to dwell on how they ended, but instead to relish how enthralling they were. Long live ‘Thunder’.

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