The tale of a doctor, a fighter and a cunning cut man
“Look at me! look at me!” the ring doctor yelled over the sounds of a raucous Madison square garden crowd. The fighter obliged, looking up at the doctor, revealing his horrendously swollen eye. His eye had swelled rapidly over the course of the preceding round as relentless dominican puncher Wilson Rodriguez had pounded on the IBF junior lightweight champion who was now fighting the doctor in the corner as well as the fight in the ring. “How many Fingers?” The doctor asks holding up two fingers up in the face of Aurtro Gatti, the man they called thunder, had no answer.
Gatti is now famed now for his inhuman ability to absorb punishment and keep on fighting, his wars with Mickey Ward have gone down in legend for their ferocity and brutality, but at this point, facing Rodriguez he was not the legend we know today.
Aurtro was at this point an unproven champion, a 23 year old kid fresh off winning his maiden world title. When compounded with the fact he had a loss in his 7th professional fight against Journeyman King Solomon at the Blue Horizon hotel many had cause to write him off, to say that he couldn’t be one of history’s great champions rather just a fleeting figure who had had his 15 minutes of fame with the title and was now going to hand it over to another boxer. All this dogged Gatti’s mind as he took on the veteran campaigner Rodriguez, and it showed in the first two rounds.
“How many fingers!” the doctor repeated as Gatti stared into darkness totally blind, frantically thinking of a way to prevent the doctor from stopping the fight.
Rodriguez had started fast imposing his physical size with long straight punches that landed flush on the champions now legendarily leaky defence. Arturo stalked and circled but couldn’t stop the jabs and crosses from finding their mark. As the bell sounded to end the third hbo commentator Jim Lamply noticed a welt that had begun to develop under the left eye of Gatti remarking on the broadcast “Gatti’s got a huge mouse under his left eye and it’s swelling already” foreshadowing the drama that was to come. The second round was more of the same as the welt grew and Gatti’s defence weakened. He was now defenceless against all left hand punches because he had no way of seeing them coming. Rodriguez landed an stunning left hook right hand combination that sent Arturo crashing to the canvas. He got up and survived the round but this when he had to do battle with the ringside doctor.
“Two!” Gatti exclaimed, he had found his voice but not without some old school boxing skullduggery. As the doctor had asked the question cut man Joe Souza tapped Gatti’s leg twice without any of the officials spotting it. “Say it again!” The doctor instructed, two more taps on the leg and a shout of “two!” From Gatti. The doctor then switched to one finger, eliciting a single tap on the leg and this time and a shout of “one!” Totally blind Gatti was putting all his faith in the leg tapping strategy employed by Souza. Their unspoken communication and bond allowed Gatti to do what he does best, win a dog fight. Both Gatti and Souza knew they could win if the doctor allowed Gatti to fight so they found a way to get him back out there, and they used a frankly cinematic way to do it.
“He’s alright” declared the doctor stepping back through the ropes as the bell rang for round three. Gatti was still hurt and taking punches. He was now filled with a sense of urgency he hadn’t had before, knowing that the fight could be stopped at any minute by the doctor. He landed a chopping left hook, just enough to keep the powers that be away from stopping the fight, he seemed however to be moving through the gears, knowing he needed to finish the job sooner rather than later.
The 4th started with a powerful left hook to the body from Gatti followed up by a thudding left hook to the chin by Rodriguez who looked increasingly awestruck by the resilience of the man in front of him. Every time Rodriguez landed Gatti appeared to speed up. Rodriguez landed a hellacious combination that staggered Gatti but again as the referee moved to stop the fight Gatti fought back landing a thunderous right and followed it up with an equally brutal series of hooks.
The 5th was more of the same as they swung for the fences both desperate for a stoppage but only one partially blind. Rodriguez was becoming desperate, what more did he have to do to win? How was Gatti still in there? At the end of the round Rodriguez tried to frame up and push Gatti away, exposing his midriff, a huge mistake. Arturo swung in a terrifying body shot that caused Rodriguez to crumble in a way only a well placed body punch can. Like Gatti though he two rises, and comes back stronger than before landing 9 unanswered blows before the bell rang to end the round.
With the tide turning Gatti knew it was now or never to take him out. The corner pushed on his eye with the end well but the blindness was incurable as the welt now covered nearly half of Gatti’s face. He had to knock him out, and he had to do it now. He landed a barrage of right hooks to the body forcing Rodriguez to lower his guard, to defend where he’d been knocked down. Then bang, a leaping left hook to the jaw floors Rodriguez. Gatti couldn’t see his opponent at the angle the threw the punch but his ability was such that he didn’t need to. As the count reached 10 Gatti celebrated wildly, partially blind he has just defended his title in what would later be crowned fight of the year in the ring magazine. A monumental achievement worthy of a Hollywood movie more than a boxing ring, the thunder rolled on.
Dedicated to the Memory of Arturo Gatti and those who still pursue his killer.
Ewan Breeze of SimBoxx
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