To his Montreal crew, Arturo Gatti left home a hard-hitting teenager and returned a retired boxing champ with a big heart, the kind of millionaire who bought champagne for friends and condos for family.
Sweet, happy-go-lucky, quick to grab the check or hand out a loan, always in a hurry, often to get to the next party: This was Arturo Gatti to his Montreal friends and family.
But the bars and gyms of New Jersey made Arturo (Thunder) Gatti, and it’s there the carefree Montreal story turns into something darker and more complicated.
In New Jersey, Mr. Gatti learned how to throw a punch like a pro and, more importantly, how to take a thousand of them and stay on his feet, mostly. It was in the Garden State he discovered painkillers and cocaine and hit booze with abandon, chasing women as if only they and the intoxicants could dull his physical and mental torment.
Each person who knew Mr. Gatti seems locked into contradictory versions of truth, but three weeks of court testimony, a private investigation, a meticulously researched book and a series of interviews make this much certain: Arturo Gatti was wrecked by a combination of booze, toxic relationships with women, too many blows to the head and an inability to face life.
The specifics of his death may never be resolved. After a raucous night out where he struck Ms. Rodrigues and was set upon by a mob, Mr. Gatti died from strangulation on July 11, 2009 after he retreated to his hotel suite in Brazil.
He did it, the wife did it, or someone helped her do it, depending on whose version you buy. Suicide remains the official verdict, but his wife, Amanda Rodrigues, the only other adult known to have been in the suite that early morning, remains under suspicion. She says she was sleeping while Mr. Gatti hanged himself.
“Bullshit,” said Erika Rivera, Mr. Gatti’s former girlfriend and the mother of his first child, Sofia. “He could get a little bit crazy, he was very superstitious, but suicidal? Never. He was a free spirit who loved life.”
While attention in Canada is focused on the dispute between Ms. Rodrigues and Mr. Gatti’s Montreal family over his $3.4-million estate, it’s Ms. Rivera in New Jersey who is pulling many strings.
When the lawsuit playing out in Montreal court seemed headed for settlement this week, it was Ms. Rivera, a 32-year-old chemical engineer and former go-go dancer, who brought discussions to a halt. She also launched her own wrongful death suit against Ms. Rodrigues in New Jersey, putting a freeze on the money and ensuring nothing will be settled for years.
Ms. Rivera, who wasn’t involved in any lawsuits before the summer, says she suddenly started getting legal documents in the mail that appeared to threaten her daughter’s trust accounts set up by Mr. Gatti. And there was one other reason she suddenly became involved, she said.
“I thought she’d be in jail by now,” Ms. Rivera said of Mr. Gatti’s wife. “And if she won’t go to jail, we’ll take away the money. The only way this gets settled is with her not getting one red cent.”
Ms. Rivera has a good job, designing explosives for the United States Department of Defence. She gets $4,640 in monthly child support from a $1.1-million trust set up by Mr. Gatti, and later approved by Ms. Rodrigues, and the little girl has another $350,000 set aside for her future. With a New Jersey lawyer acting for fees contingent on victory, Ms. Rivera plans to pursue the case until the end, whatever else happens in Canada.
Dark truths remain that Ms. Rivera and others refuse to accept.
Mr. Gatti spent a lot of years hooked on painkillers. Even his little brother Fabrizio, the unofficial guardian of Mr. Gatti’s image, says Arturo partied until the sun rose every second night of the week, when a man in his late 30s with a toddler and a new wife should have been home. He got into fights, with other bar patrons, and most of all, with his wife, Ms. Rodrigues, a petite woman who managed to blacken the welterweight champion’s eyes with her own shots.
Still, she was the only person who ever pushed Mr. Gatti into rehab, in Florida in December, 2007. It was his sister, Anna-Maria Gatti, who picked him up to escape before the program was complete. Big sister maintains to this day he didn’t need it.
The sister, Mr. Gatti’s manager Pat Lynch, his mother Ida, brother Fabrizio and Ms. Rivera all say they saw no signs of depression. They don’t believe he was ever really hooked on booze or drugs, or was capable of suicide. He was just happy and liked to party.