Greatest Fights: Gatti, Ward, tragedy, legacy - and a round of the century

By Luke ReddyBBC Sport
Gatti v Ward
Ward (right) and Gatti fought three times in 13 months but their first meeting holds a special place in boxing

Micky Ward threw a left hook at Arturo Gatti's coffin.

The American said the punch was his way of lovingly saying "I got you last".

Seven years earlier the pair spent three fights - 30 rounds in all - trading the kind of blows boxing will never forget.

'I miss him to death every day. He is always with me'

Fight fans cherish the Gatti-Ward rivalry because it showed the lengths a boxer will go to; it was a rivalry that became a yardstick by which excitement and heart in a boxing ring could forever be measured.

There were no belts on offer or no undefeated records to protect when the light-welterweights first met at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut in 2002.

Fans had long thought the pair would match up well and with every every cut and stomach-churning blow, a bond was formed.

"I miss him to death everyday," said Ward, as Gatti's daughter stood next to him in 2012, three years after her father was found dead in a hotel room in Brazil.

"He's always with me, I know he's here."

Cuts, heavy hitting - and a decisive low blow

Mark Wahlberg (right) played Micky Ward in 2010 Hollywood hit 'The Fighter' where Christian Bale won an Oscar for his portrayal of Ward's half-brother
Mark Wahlberg (right) played Micky Ward in 2010 Hollywood hit 'The Fighter' - Christian Bale won an Oscar for his portrayal of Ward's half-brother

Within 90 seconds of the opening bell Ward is badly cut. He is floored illegally in the fourth by a low blow that - crucially - sees Gatti deducted a point.

The last 30 seconds of the fifth needs its own health warning as both men land heavily. Both are now cut.

Before the eighth Ward is told by his brother in the corner that he will not allow him to become "a punch bag".

"It was a showdown that ranks on the all-time list of just about everybody we know in the sport," says BBC Radio 5 Live's Mike Costello as he watches the bout back.

And then came round nine. Three minutes in which more punches were thrown than some entire 12-round fights can boast.

'Money won't help in the round of the century'

From his co-commentary position, legendary trainer Emanuel Steward screams: "You know, you dream of fights like this, but very seldom do they live up to the expectation. This is even more than you can dream of."

Early in the ninth Gatti drops to one knee. The Italian-Canadian's face is riddled with pain from a body shot as the fight's only legitimate knockdown is registered. Some claim his trainer walked up the ring steps and shaped to throw in the towel. But, somehow, his fighter rallies and punches violently enough to the body to back Ward to the ropes.

"If you're in there for the money, those are moments when the money isn't enough," says former two-weight world champion Paulie Malignaggi.

"You're soul searching with your opponent. It's about your passion for what you do. Passion can make anything difficult feel not difficult, including boxing when you're in pain."

Gatti batters the body of Ward. Calling individual punches from either man becomes impossible. There are just too many.

At the bell, Ward taps his rival on the shoulder with the left hand that would one day be aimed at his coffin. There is respect amid the madness.

Steward, a man who has seen it all, tells HBO's viewers: "This should be the round of the century".

"It's one of the greatest fights I have ever watched," says 5 Live Boxing's Steve Bunce. "That ninth round is unforgettable and unbelievable."

Tragedy and legacy

Ward (right) trained Gatti for the final fight of his career
Ward (right) trained Gatti for the final fight of his career

Somehow the pair find the energy to embrace as the bell signals the end of the 10th and final round. One judge calls it a draw, while two narrowly pick Ward. The point deduction handed to Gatti in the fourth has cost him a draw.

Jim Lampley, commentating at ringside, recalled: "Later I ran into Gatti's manager and he was distraught, saying he couldn't believe they lost. I said no-one who follows boxing will remember who won six months from now. Both have been elevated from the experience they gave us."

Gatti got his revenge, twice over, scoring two wins in what were the last two fights of Ward's career. For the final fight of his own career, Gatti hired his great rival as his trainer.

Ward has suffered badly with headaches since retirement.external-link He picked up around $3m for the three fights. 'The Fighter', a film based on his career starring Mark Wahlberg, earned seven Oscar nominations in 2010.

But his great rival Gatti was dead a year before its release - two years on from his own retirement and aged just 37. Investigations into his death went on for years.external-link

That he could not spend decades reliving his two world-title wins is a tragedy.

Boxing must make do with his legacy - the battles with Ward, the 30 absorbing rounds and, of course, round nine.

Costello concludes: "It was one of those nights where you don't throw away the ticket stub and boast you were there."