It wasn't supposed to end this way but it ended the way it usually does.
On the canvas, bloodied, after absorbing a beating from a younger man.
In Atlantic City on Saturday night, in what must be the final fight in a valiant career, Arturo Gatti was sent to the canvas at 2:12 of the seventh round, a KO victim at the hands of a B level fighter, Alfonso Gomez. There will be no more improbable comebacks and heroic efforts of momentous valor for the 35-year-old fighter whose hands were slow and who couldn't slip away from Gomez' less-than-blinding punches even when he spied them coming.
He never looked in the fight, and while there were times his legs had bounce, it was clear early on that Gatti, who started as a pro in 1991, didn't have it. He couldn't pull the trigger and when he did, his launches were slow and errant.
He looked rusty in the first but his legions of fans in AC were certain he'd revert to form before long.
Viewers wanted him to go toe to toe as it became clear that Gomez was picking him apart, but it wasn't to be. In the second round, we saw his jab look slow, and saw it miss the mark, badly.
In the third, Gatti went lefty to try and change the momentum, but to no avail.
Gatti moved smartly in the fourth but he couldn't combine that with effective aggression. Gomez, as he did from the opening bell, looked calm and in command.
The fans tried to shove Gatti, vocally will him, to a rallying flurry with rousing shouts in the fifth, but there would be no magic on this night, only the depressing inevitability of the aging process. Thunder missed widely with home run throws to end the round, and even his most loyal followers saw the sad writing on the wall.
Gatti slipped shots in the sixth and did an Ali Shuffle that have the fans a jolt, but he still lost the round, as Gomez advanced, and pecked away calmly.
Gomez stepped it up in the sad seventh, landing two clean rights that put Gatti in a familiar, but now inescapable place. He measured and threw, as Gatti returned with a hook a foot short. Gomez pounded the battler, who stubbornly refused to take a knee and collect his scrambled senses. Gatti held on as the fans rose, almost to a person with a look of disbelief and concern on their face. “We're watching the destruction of an action hero,” analyst Max Kellerman said, as Gomez worked on finishing the hero's run, with viciously delivered body blows, short rights and finally, an overhand right that sent Gatti pitching face first to the canvas, on his knees. NJ commissioner Larry Hazzard ran in to end the rain of blows on the hero. Gatti stood, and was placed on a stool, as doctors attended to his split lip. When informed that the fight was stopped, he burst up from the stool, infuriated and aghast. He accepted the outcome, though, and was taken to the dressing room as Michael Buffer called out the official time of the last stand.
Afterwards in the dressing room, he told Max Kellerman how he felt.
“He was hungrier than I was, a hungry fighter, a young fighter, strong,” said the boxer, who gave fight fans far more than their money's worth every time he gloved up, and always refused to let a little impediment like a closed eye, or two, deter him from pressing on. “I did my best, I came in thinking I could outbox him, but the ring kept getting smaller and smaller with the bigger man and it just sucks that 40 to 147, it's a different me, I wish I could make 140, but it's impossible. I don't see myself continuing at 147, I'm going to retire and I can't keep taking this abuse no more.”
“I was well prepared. I'm sad for my team, 'cause we worked so hard, I just did my best. I felt great, I was in good shape, I wasn't strong enough for Gomez, it shows I don't belong at 147. That means hasta la vista baby,” he said, chuckling. The people in the locker room burst into applause at that phrase.
“I just want to say I love you guys, I really tried hard tonight,” he said, when asked to give fans a farewell message. “You know how big my heart is that I just couldn't do it, I give you my best and love you for supporting me through tough times for me and you guys brought me back and made me win a second world title, I love you guys and thank you very much, and had a great time doing it.”
Gatti, who walks away with a 40-9 mark, gave the camera a thumbs up, and grinned sheepishly as he accepted a hug from his all-time rival for the ages, Micky Ward.
Ward trained Gatti for this, his final effort. But Eddie Futch, Cus D'Amato and Angelo Dundee could have gotten Gatti ready, and fed him advice against Gomez, without effect. Time, and accrued punishment, had piled up, and nobody, even his staunchest fans, could believe that there was a comeback left in him after this decisive beating.
Arturo, from TSS, thanks for giving buckets of blood and sweat for our viewing pleasure.
You've exemplified the qualities that hold all of us fight fans hostage.
You are a ring warrior, Arturo Gatti, and please do enjoy some quality time on the golf course, and the hammock.
See you in Canastota.