One Of My Favourites… Ward VS Gatti 1
When I was about twelve or thirteen years old I got into a minor argument with my old man about sport. I had been reading the TV guide, scanning for any film with a three or higher star rating to watch that night. I found something that sounded halfway decent and went into the living room to see if my dad was willing to watch it with me on the big TV.
Unfortunately, football was starting at the exact same time and he would be watching that. Being the irritating pain in the ass that I was (and still am) I sat down and loudly complained over the first ten minutes of the game. I questioned why anyone would want to watch a group of men kick a ball around a field, when you could be watching a film with real drama, real stakes, real emotion, and real craft. Real art.
My dad came back with an argument which at the time left me in stunned disbelief. He told me that a great match contains more drama, has greater stakes, higher highs and lower lows, and more pure emotion than any film ever could. You take any year’s Oscar contenders, add them all up, and they still don’t amount to anything that can rival the action and excitement of a great game.
I sat there, saying nothing, staring at my father and feeling like there was a gulf between us. He was wrong, and I would never understand him.
I went upstairs and watched some movie I don’t remember, forcing myself to be more engaged than the film actually deserved, just because I could hear Dad downstairs cheering, riveted as his team scored another goal.
A few years later I started hearing talk from a couple of friends about one of the great boxing match ups. They had heard about it from a friend who had heard about it from a friend’s brother who had heard about it from someone else, and so on. Eventually the chain of friends and friends of brothers got to me. I wasn’t all that interested, but out of all the sports, boxing was the one I was most forgiving of. My Granddad had been a boxer, and a good one at that by all accounts, and I enjoyed hearing his stories. So I watched it.
The fight was Arturo Gatti and Mickey Ward’s first match up in 2002.
The first three rounds I was entertained, but it was seemingly just another boxing match. But over the next six rounds, I was changed. At various points throughout that unbelievable fight I would cheer, gasp, rise to my fight, and drop my jaw in disbelief. I was sweating, my throat was coarse from cheering, there was an electricity coursing through me from a level of visceral excitement I had never known.
In round nine, by which point both men had been to hell and back and were still swinging with all they had, the crowd was screaming, the commentators were shouting, and I was physically shaking as my pulse pounded and my adrenaline skyrocketed. It was madness. Once round ten was over, I didn’t even wait to see who was declared the winner, I jumped back to the start and watched it again.
It was the fight of that year. The fight of that decade. And to some, one of the greatest fights of all time. It is the stuff of legend. If you haven’t seen it and have even a passing interesting in the sport, you need to change that right now. It’s on youtube. Go.
Boxing Legends TV once broke down the top ten rounds of all time. Not fights, individual rounds. Throughout all of televised history, any and every fight was eligible. That’s thousands of fights, thousands upon thousands of rounds, narrowed down to just ten. Gatti vs Ward 1 is so good, two of it’s rounds make it onto that list. One of them wins it.
That fight was not for a world title. It wasn’t going to dramatically alter the rankings and lead the winner to a title shot. It was, for all intents and purposes, just a fight. The stakes were not obvious. But once it started it soon became clear what both men were fighting for. This was for pride, this was two men who would never be considered the best in the world showing us that they were still here, still mattered, and could still put on a hell of a show.
My favourite thing about the bout is you see the friendship that would last the rest of their lives start to form right there in the ring. Gatti and Ward fought two more times, all wars, and by the end of it they were practically brothers. They were mirror images of each other, two granite chinned warriors with the hearts of lions, who were not willing to back down. They would march into each other, one would unleash a flurry of chaos that would usually stop any other man on the planet, the other would take it, give a nod of respect and then unleash their own barrage right back.
Ward vs Gatti 1 made me understand sport as whole. The joy of watching two men, women, or teams compete for world titles, glory, or just the chance to show the world what they are made of. That one fight made me willing to give other sports a try, and now I’m fan of Boxing, MMA, American football, Basketball, Ice Hockey, Rugby, and even, shockingly, Curling. Still don’t really dig football, sorry Dad, but I get it.
That fight has it all. Compelling drama, character, heart, emotion, and unbelievable action. I won’t go so far as to say it tops the best films ever made, but it rivals them. So many classic matches do. And Ward vs Gatti 1 is the moment I realised that. It is the fight that changed me. It took me back to the argument with my dad all those years prior, and made me admit something to myself and say something you will never hear me say again: I was wrong, and Dad, you were right.