In the third round of the highly anticipated rematch between junior welterweights Mickey Ward and Arturo Gatti on Saturday night in Atlantic City, Gatti smacked Ward with an overhand right that ricocheted off Ward’s shoulder and landed on the soft spot behind his ear. Ward staggered into a belly flop and plopped onto the corner ring post, his legs blowing about like pieces of paper.
After the 37-year-old Ward gets hit, he often mumbles a couple of words, shrugs his shoulders, pushes down his cup, and gets it going again. That’s what he did this time, too. Fans were screaming for the fight to be stopped, but 30 seconds later, Ward was pummeling the 30-year-old Gatti against the ropes.
That third round captured beautifully why this matchup between two thirtysomething fighters who some thought should have already retired has received widespread interest even from sports fans not entranced by boxing.
The first Gatti-Ward fight a few months ago was a literally staggering spectacle, and we ripped it for what seemed to be its pointless brutality. It seemed like a Schwarzenegger film—mindless slaughter for the sake of entertainment. But the rematch proved that Gatti vs. Ward is more like Rocky—with both fighters playing the title role of likeable punching bag with a bigger heart than brain.
Ward won the first fight in a close decision, and each fighter lavished praise on the other. In the rematch, Gatti (35-6) clearly won, and both fighters once again were extraordinarily gracious afterward.
The first bout took fight fans a little by surprise, and it seemed unlikely that the rematch would approach it. But Ward’s performance in the third round came close. Out on his feet and inches away from possibly getting seriously hurt, with Dicky Ecklund, his trainer and half-brother, about to stop the fight, Ward (38-12) somehow pulled himself out of the ditch he was in and back into the fight.
“There aren’t too many guys like Micky Ward,” Gatti said after the verdict. Same for Gatti. They may not be the most talented fighters, but Ward and Gatti do for each other what Joe Frazier did for Muhammad Ali and Thomas Hearns did for Sugar Ray Leonard. They bring out the best in the other. What they did in that third round had some people at ringside on the brink of tears.