Arturo Gatti has been included on this year’s ballot for induction to the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Is Gatti worthy of enshrinement?
CHRIS MANNIX: This is easily the most difficult decision in my years as a voter, and arguably the toughest call in the history of the Hall. On paper, Gatti isn’t worthy. Not even close. He was 40-9 in his 16-year professional career, and though wins and losses are not a true indicator of greatness (sorry, Floyd), Gatti lost whenever he took on the elite (Mayweather, Oscar De La Hoya) and lost plenty when he didn’t (Angel Manfredy, Ivan Robinson — twice — and Micky Ward). He was never on any reputable pound-for-pound list and didn’t dazzle with any real natural boxing talent.
But if ever there were a fighter whose ability to entertain should overshadow any lack of success, it’s Gatti. Gatti was a blood-and-guts warrior, fearless, with the heart of 10 men and the courage of 20. How many times did Gatti pick himself off the canvas after taking a beating that would have put anyone else down for the count? How many times did Gatti come back to win after appearing to have nothing left? Sure, Gatti was often a victim of his own mistakes: He brawled when he should have boxed, hung in when he should have tied up. But for more than a decade he was must-see TV and he gave the sport exciting fights during a time in boxing when there were not enough.
Did Arturo Gatti have Hall of Fame talent? No. But the Hall of Fame should be for more than the most skilled. It should be about gravitas, about fighters who lifted the sport up and made it better. And for that reason, Gatti will get my vote.
RICHARD O’BRIEN: A while back, I included Gatti in my Boxing Thrill List, a rundown of the 10 most exciting fighters of all time, putting him in with the likes of Sugar Ray Robinson, Joe Louis, Jack Dempsey and Muhammad Ali — champions for whom the “Hall of Fame” designation doesn’t even begin to do justice. But, in naming Gatti to that list, I wrote, “We’re talking thrills, not necessarily skills, right?” And that’s a key distinction in any question about Hall of Fame inclusion.
The immensely likeable Gatti was an electrifying performer, one whose ability to take punishment — while producing copious amounts of blood (usually his own) — and bounce back to win bordered on the cartoonish. He took part in four Fights of the Year, and his trilogy with Micky Ward — particularly the first bout, which Gatti lost — stands as a truly inspiring (and ridiculously entertaining) example of the warrior spirit.
So, was boxing better for having Arturo Gatti around? Certainly. Do we wish there were more fighters like him? Gosh yes. And does he belong in the Hall? No way.
A capable boxer when he wanted to be and a solid, if far from devastating, puncher (with, admittedly, a great body attack), Gatti was too slow and too limited defensively to handle the best fighters of his era. His biggest wins were against limited opposition — Tracy Patterson, Dominique Rodriguez, Gabriel Ruelas, and, of course, Ward — and in each, Gatti received plenty of punishment. He lost to the likes of Angel Manfredy and Ivan Robinson (twice). The only two truly world-class fighters he faced, Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather Jr., absolutely destroyed him.
So no, Arturo Gatti does not belong in the Hall of Fame. But he does belong in the grateful memory of every boxing fan who saw him in bloody action in Convention Hall in Atlantic City. And that’s enshrinement of a sort.
BRYAN ARMEN GRAHAM: The Gatti Question, as this conundrum is bound to be referenced among boxing’s cognoscenti, strikes at the heart of the subjectivism underpinning Halls of Fame across all sports. Namely, should the governing criterium be ability or iconicism?
The agate type of Gatti’s BoxRec page — dissected at length above — may pale in comparison to other enshrinees of his era, but few fighters did more to keep boxing in the American sporting consciousness during the early aughts. The most consistently entertaining pugilist of his generation, Gatti participated in the Ring Magazine Fight of the Year four times in a seven-year span — his breathtaking come-from-behind knockout of Wilson Rodriguez in 1996 reasonably could have made it five of eight — drew massive ratings for HBO and electrified the long-dormant fistic outpost of Atlantic City.
He was never considered the best of his weight class despite holding two legitimate world titles, but countless fans regard Gatti as their favorite fighter — in many ways a more invaluable prize than pound-for-pound king. He lost every second of every round against Mayweather the year before Floyd turned heel, but how many paying customers would rather watch the indefatigable Gatti’s thrill-a-minute pyrotechnics over Pretty Boy’s peerless defensive exhibitions?
When the Class of 2013 is announced in December, the outcome of Gatti’s candidacy is bound to provoke spirited reaction whether he’s inducted or passed over. Paradoxically, both sides will be correct. But it says here Gatti is a no-brainer for enshrinement. “In no other sport can so much take place in so brief a period of time, and so irrevocably,” wrote Joyce Carol Oates of this brutal trade, a quality no one understood and incorporated better than Gatti, who left us richer for it.