Gatti vs. Gomez: The Thunder’s Last Rumble
By: Ron Scarfone
In June 2003, Arturo “Thunder” Gatti and “Irish” Micky Ward completed their trilogy of three consecutive fights. Ward won by majority decision in the first fight. Gatti won the second and third fights by unanimous decision. The first and third fights won Fight of the Year honors. Ward announced his retirement after their third fight. However, Gatti remained active and won the vacant WBC super lightweight title which has a 140 pound weight limit.
Gatti successfully defended his title twice, but lost to Floyd Mayweather Jr. in his third title defense. For his next fight, Gatti moved up to the welterweight division and won the vacant International Boxing Association (IBA) welterweight title, but lost to Carlos Baldomir in his first title defense. Baldomir was the WBC welterweight champion, so his title was also at stake. Baldomir retained his WBC title and obtained the IBA title after defeating Gatti by TKO. Gatti was knocked down twice in the ninth round and the fight was stopped. Gatti was IBF super featherweight champion and WBC super lightweight champion in his career. Once Gatti moved up to welterweight, he could only win the lightly regarded IBA welterweight title. Nearly a year after Gatti fought Baldomir, Gatti was scheduled to fight Alfonso Gomez on July 14, 2007. This was a non-title bout in the welterweight division. Gomez is best known for being a contestant on the first season of The Contender television show.
At the time, I was working for the original Boxing Tribune website as an editor, writer, and videographer. The owner of the website asked me if I would make a video of Gatti training in Pompano Beach, Florida at Sultan Ibragimov’s gym. Ibragimov was the WBO heavyweight champion and had won the title in June 2007 against Shannon Briggs. I did get to meet Ibragimov a few months later and record his workout on video when he was preparing for his first title defense against Evander Holyfield. When I previously made videos of boxers in training, I just asked the boxer, his trainer, or his manager if I was allowed to. I found out that Micky Ward was training Gatti for this fight. Ward and Gatti were friends after their famous trilogy of fights. I was able to obtain Ward’s phone number and called him. I asked Ward if he would allow me to bring my digital camera and make a video of Gatti training. Ward told me that it would be okay with him if Gatti’s promoter said it was okay. I then called Main Events which was the promotional company for the fight and Gatti’s promoter. I talked to a woman and I assume it was Main Events promoter Kathy Duva, but I didn’t ask. I just asked if I could have permission to make a video of Gatti. She said if it was okay with Ward, then it would be okay. I told her that Ward said it was okay if Main Events said it was okay. She reiterated that if Ward said it is okay, then it is okay. Neither Ward nor Main Events wanted to make the final decision. I decided that I would go to the gym and tell Ward that they said it was okay, but not refer to who “they” are.
I knew what time the training was supposed to begin, but arrived at the gym earlier before anyone else. The gym was in a warehouse next to other warehouses of the same building. I assumed that Ibragimov and the other businesses there were paying rent. I saw a car park in front of the gym. Ward got out of the car and someone else did too. I stared at this person because I remembered that I saw him before, but I forgot who he was and where I saw him. He looked at me watching him, so I approached him. “You look familiar,” I said. “I’m Jeff Fraza,” he replied. I immediately remembered where I saw him before. Fraza was a contestant on the first season of The Contender television show in 2005. Gomez was also on the show during that time. “What are you doing here?” I asked. “I’m Arturo’s sparring partner,” Fraza said. Is it possible that Fraza was chosen as a sparring partner because of being on The Contender show? Did he have some inside information about Gomez? That probably was not the reason. Fraza was on the show only briefly and had to leave early due to having chicken pox. However, Fraza did return for the second season of The Contender in 2006. I believe Fraza was chosen to be Gatti’s sparring partner because he was a friend of Ward. Both Ward and Fraza were from the state of Massachusetts.
An African-American man was overseeing Ibragimov’s gym and he came to unlock the door. It was a small gym, but it had a ring and a speed bag. A large teardrop punching bag was suspended over the center of the ring. It looked like a wrecking ball. This type of bag can be used for punching and kicking. Gatti arrived shortly after the gym was opened. I took my digital camera out of my bag and talked to Ward. “They said it was okay,” I said. “Okay,” Ward said. Gatti put on a sweat suit. This is also known as a sauna suit. It helps athletes to lose water weight and also to increase their metabolic rate which stimulates the body to burn more fat. Gatti began jumping rope while wearing the sweat suit, so I recorded Gatti on video. Ward saw me and told me not to record while Gatti was wearing the sweat suit.
Obviously, Ward did not want Gomez to know that Gatti was having trouble making weight. I deleted the video and waited until Gatti removed the sweat suit. After several minutes of Gatti jumping rope, he removed the sweat suit and then he resumed jumping rope. I began recording the video of Gatti using the jump rope for a few minutes. Gatti then entered the ring. Gatti punched the large teardrop bag which was hovering over the ring. One time though, Gatti did a front kick to the bottom of the bag. Ward jokingly said “UFC” and then the African-American man also jokingly said “K-1.” K-1 combines martial arts such as karate, kung fu, taekwondo, Muay Thai, and kickboxing. K-1 fights take place in a ring and the fighters wear gloves similar to boxing gloves.
After Gatti was finished punching the teardrop bag, Ward entered the ring and put on focus mitts. It was interesting to see Gatti and Ward in the ring together again, but not as opponents of each other. Gatti punched the focus mitts worn by Ward. After this part of the training, Gatti punched the speed bag. I stood near Gatti and recorded him with my camera as he was training with the speed bag for a few rounds. Gatti briefly glanced at me while he was punching the speed bag and then he focused his attention on the bag. Gatti still had more training to do after this session. I was wondering when he was going to spar Fraza and if I could record that on video. Apparently, Gatti was going to spar Fraza later in the day. Nevertheless, Gatti did not want me to record him sparring Fraza. This was understandable, especially because he did not want to reveal any strategy before his upcoming fight against Gomez.
However, Gatti did offer to let me record him doing weight training at another gym. I politely declined because I was eager to edit the footage I already had. As I predicted, Gatti’s training video was very popular with boxing fans and the original Boxing Tribune website got a lot more views as a result. The website no longer exists, so the video is not available for the public to view.
I did not think Gatti’s fight against Gomez would be his last fight, but I did not expect Gatti to win. His training session was not grueling and he was wearing a sweat suit for part of the training in order to lose weight. If he was having trouble making weight, then that could affect his strength and punching power in the fight. Also, Gatti’s performance in his previous fight was a sign that Gatti’s skills were in decline. When Gatti was knocked down twice and lost to Baldomir who had nine losses on his record, that was reason to believe that Gatti was not as good at welterweight. The loss to Baldomir was only a year before his fight against Gomez. Gomez was not an elite boxer, but he had skills and only had three losses on his record which were all close losses by unanimous decision. Furthermore, Gomez was a super welterweight in his previous few fights before facing Gatti. Gomez was coming down to welterweight for this fight, but Gomez was a welterweight earlier in his career and seemed to do equally well in both weight classes and even fought at middleweight a few times when he was on the first season of The Contender. Gatti was at a disadvantage against an opponent like Gomez who had the versatility to fight at different weight classes. Gomez was also about eight years younger than Gatti who was 35 years old which is not very old for an athlete, but he did have a lot of brutal fights in his career which aged him.
The Tale of the Tape revealed that both Gatti and Gomez had the same arm length at 25 inches. Their heights were similar with Gatti at 5’8” and Gomez at 5’9”. The fight was televised on HBO. It was scheduled for ten rounds. The fight was in Atlantic City, New Jersey which is the state where Gatti lived. Of course, most of the audience wanted Gatti to win. HBO gave Gatti his choice among a few possible opponents and Gatti ultimately chose Gomez because he was viewed as beatable. Essentially, Gomez was handpicked. It turned out to be a bad decision for the reasons that I stated. After Gatti’s fight against Baldomir, Gatti was inactive for nearly one year. It was 356 days which was the longest inactivity of his career. Ring announcer Michael Buffer did not even say Gatti’s nickname “Thunder” when introducing Gatti. It was as if Gatti no longer had thunderous power in his punches. Instead, Buffer extended the o in Gatti’s first name Arturo for as long as humanly possible: “Arturoooooooooooooooooooooooo Gatti!”
In the first round, Gomez’s punches were more precise than Gatti’s. It was apparent that Gomez was bigger than Gatti even though they weighed about the same for the weigh-in. Gomez was counterpunching better than Gatti. As a result, Gomez landed some hard punches to Gatti’s head. Gatti did better in round two, but Gomez still probably won the round. Ward was in Gatti’s corner giving advice to Gatti during the break between the rounds. After round three, Ward told Gatti that he needed to throw more punches and combinations as well as use his speed. Harold Lederman of HBO unofficially scored the fight 30-27 in favor of Gomez for rounds one through three. In round four, Gomez continued his dominance landing hard left jabs, left hooks, and straight rights. After round five, Ward warned Gatti about Gomez’s right hand and for Gatti to keep his left hand up for defense. In round six, Gomez still was able to connect with the right hand. Lederman scored the sixth round in favor of Gatti which was a surprise to me. I thought that Gomez won the round. In round seven, Gomez landed a double right hand to the head that hurt Gatti. Gatti was being pummeled against the ropes. Gatti managed to remain standing. Gatti was then standing in one of the ring corners. Gatti and Gomez exchanged left jabs to each other’s head, but Gomez countered and landed a strong right hand to the head that floored Gatti immediately. Larry Hazzard entered the ring and waved his hands while the referee was counting. Then, the referee waved his hands after seeing Hazzard do this. Hazzard was the commissioner of the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board. Gatti was cut on the lip as a result of the knockout punch. The time of stoppage was 2:12 of round seven. Gomez won by TKO. Gomez landed 46% of his punches. Gatti landed only 21% of his punches. Gomez landed 216 punches and Gatti landed 74 punches. Gatti said after the fight that Gomez was stronger and the bigger man. Gatti also said that he is different when fighting at 140 pounds compared to 147 pounds, but he can no longer make the 140 pound weight limit. Gatti announced his retirement because he did not want to continue fighting at 147 pounds.
It was ironic that I found out about Gatti’s death while I was at a boxing event. On July 11, 2009, I was at the IBF bantamweight title fight between Vic Darchinyan and Joseph Agbeko. The fight was in Sunrise, Florida and Don King was promoting the event. I had a press credential, but there were a lot of journalists there. The original Boxing Tribune website was gone. I was sending articles to East Side Boxing. I was sitting behind other journalists and noticed a laptop screen of a writer. He was reading an article on a website and this was the title of it: Arturo Gatti Found Dead. I was stunned and saddened at the same time. How? Why? Gatti was 37 years old. Gatti was on his second honeymoon with his wife and baby in Brazil. Gatti was found dead in an apartment. Blood stains were on his neck and back of his head. Initially, the police in Brazil charged Gatti’s 23-year-old wife Amanda Rodrigues with Gatti’s murder. Police stated that Rodrigues used her purse strap to choke Gatti. Rodrigues’ purse was found stained with blood. However, Brazilian police ultimately concluded that Gatti committed suicide by using his wife’s purse strap to hang himself. The police made this conclusion after the coroner’s report was released. Gatti’s friends and family did not believe that Gatti would do such a thing. Private investigators from the United States who were hired by friends of Gatti concluded that Gatti had been killed by being hit from behind and then strangled. Rodrigues claimed that she was innocent and she was released from jail because the Brazilian authorities no longer considered her a suspect. I believe that Gatti was murdered.
I still think about the fact that I met Gatti just two years before his death in 2009. His sparring partner Jeff Fraza died in 2012 as a result of being hit by an empty train on commuter tracks in Massachusetts. It was reported that Fraza was walking on railroad tracks and appeared to be talking on a cellphone. Police said that the train was travelling at 35 miles per hour. Gatti’s record was 40-9, 31 KOs. He was a world champion in two weight classes by defeating Tracy Harris Patterson for the IBF super featherweight title in 1995 and Gianluca Branco for the WBC super lightweight title in 2004. Gatti was posthumously inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2013. There was debate by boxing fans as to whether Gatti deserved to be inducted. He would still be remembered even if he had not been inducted. Gatti was in four fights that won Fight of the Year honors and that is one of the main reasons why he was inducted. Gatti always wanted to give fans their money’s worth and was known as The Human Highlight Reel. Gatti’s fight against Gomez was the last time the “Thunder” rumbled and it was his last rumble. It would have been great if Gatti was alive to accept and see his induction into the Hall of Fame. Because of his tumultuous marriage and his untimely death, Gatti was not able to enjoy his retirement and his family and friends miss him. I am sure that the friends and family of Fraza miss him too. Rest in peace Arturo Gatti and Jeff Fraza.