Arturo Gatti was found dead of an apparently violent death at just 37 years old in the early morning hours of Saturday in a hotel in Brazil, where he reportedly was celebrating his second honeymoon.
It was needless and tragic, as is the death of any young person.
Gatti's loss, though, will hit boxing particularly hard. He represented one of the last remaining links to the sport's past, a fearless and feared man who was a fighter in every sense of the word.
If he was attacked, he died as he made his name in the ring, fighting to the bitter finish. Gatti was a modern day Jake La Motta, the legendary "Raging Bull." Gatti wasn't nearly as talented as La Motta, but he was every bit as tough and fearless and produced scores of memorable fights.
Each bout was more astonishing and hard to believe than the previous one. His 1996 come-from-behind victory over Wilson Rodriguez could have been the crowning point of his career, but he eclipsed that pulsating bout at least five times. Bouts with Gabe Ruelas and Ivan Robinson established him forever as one of the sport's greatest action stars.
But Gatti will be forever linked with Micky Ward, the New England tough guy with whom he put on a sizzling series of fights. They rank alongside the matchups of Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera and Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez as the finest trilogies in the last 50 years.
"You fight a guy, you go to war with them, and there is a respect there. But with me and Arturo, it was greater," Ward told RingTV.com. "There was a real bond between us. It's why hearing this, hearing what happened to Arturo is like a piece of you is gone, because we shared so much of everything in the ring. We were friends, close friends."
Gatti literally kept boxing alive in Atlantic City, N.J., earlier this decade, where he would routinely sell out venerable Boardwalk Hall. Atlantic City's heyday as a boxing mecca was in the mid-to-late 1980s, when Mike Tyson headlined.
Tyson moved his act to Las Vegas and fought most of his biggest fights there in the 1990s and Atlantic City struggled, boxing-wise, in the 1990s. But Gatti reinvigorated the sport in the casino town, repeatedly putting on Fighter of the Year-type shows from 1997-2005.
Gatti's downfall as a fighter came in the latter years, when he was thrashed by Floyd Mayweather Jr. Gatti was not nearly fast enough or skilled enough to deal with a guy like Mayweather, who is among the most gifted men in the sport in the last three decades. Mayweather put a merciless beating on Gatti, rarely getting hit and raking him with flush shots to the face.
It was clear by the second round that this would not be Gatti's night. It ended when Larry Hazard, the head of the New Jersey Athletic Control Board, walked to Gatti's corner and "suggested" they stop the fight at the end of the sixth.
Mayweather's reputation as a fighter and as a pay-per-view attraction were enhanced with that win and he sadly recalled Gatti on Saturday.
"He was a terrific champion and a very exciting fighter," Mayweather said. "It's terrible to hear this news and I offer my prayers and sympathies to his family."
The Boxing Writers Association of America in 1998 named its Fight of the Year Award after Harry Markson, the one-time director of boxing at Madison Square Garden.
If the organization were wise, it would find another way to honor Markson, who made numerous contributions to the sport, and rename it after Gatti.
There would be no more appropriate or prestigious honor a boxing organization could bestow on a pair of fighters than to give them the Arturo Gatti Award for Fight of the Year.
He was one of a kind and his senseless death won't do anything to dull the memory of the rare boxer who was the epitome of a never-say-die warrior.
- Arturo Gatti