During the first few months of their courtship, Arturo Gatti's widow says she didn't know she was dating a world champion boxer.
Amanda Rodrigues told the story of her relationship with the late boxer Wednesday as she took the stand for the first time in a civil trial over his estate.
She described their chance meeting while both were out walking their dogs in Hoboken, N.J., during the summer of 2006. She was 19 at the time. He was 34 and nearing the end of his career.
“I fell in love with him before I knew what he did in life,” Rodrigues testified. “I really believe that's why he chose me as the only wife he ever had.”
Rodrigues is in a bitter battle with the late boxer's family over his fortune. She says she is the only heir in his legal will. But his family rejects that will and says Gatti was pressured into signing it just before his sudden death; they don't believe his death was a suicide.
A judge suggested Wednesday that the two sides find common ground because Gatti's money is running out. Rodrigues was firm, however, that she would not yield an inch.
“I don't want to negotiate,” Rodrigues said outside the courtroom, while being whisked past journalists by her lawyer who was telling her not to comment.
Her lawyer later confirmed there would be no deal.
Later, Rodrigues was called to the stand by the Gatti family lawyer. Under his questioning, she denied ever having worked in a strip club. But she admitted she and Gatti frequented them.
Rodrigues, now 25, said she was a university student studying international business full time and living with her family.
Despite the fact that Gatti lived in a high-end waterfront condo and that she saw him every day, she says she only discovered his day job when he was approached by a fan as they walked through New York's Central Park.
“It didn't matter to me,” Rodrigues said of his boxing career, admitting she knew little about the sport.
“All my girlfriends are from Brazil. We follow soccer, not boxing.”
The couple was quietly engaged in May 2007 and married three months later in Las Vegas, forgoing a plan to have a big Brazilian wedding because of Rodrigues' visa problems.
Days before that impromptu wedding, Gatti brought Rodrigues to his manager's office where she was asked to sign a pre-nuptial agreement.
She said she did so without hesitation — because she was in love and it didn't matter to her.
“Even today, I've never read that document. I don't know what was inside,” Rodrigues said.
“When you marry, you don't think about divorce, you think it's going to last forever. That's why people get married.”
The couple would return to the office of lawyer John Lynch just days after their wedding and Rodrigues testified that Gatti was intent on tearing up the document of his own volition.
They were told at the office that it had been mailed so Rodrigues assumed the pre-nuptial agreement had been lost in the mail. She only discovered that it still existed when she saw a 2010 Maxim Magazine article titled, “To the death: Gatti vs. Gatti (Rodrigues).”
“I cared that my husband did something beautiful for me,” Rodrigues said of Gatti's attempt to retrieve the document from the lawyer's office.
Rodrigues said that Gatti's drinking problems began after his post-retirement move to Montreal in 2008 — something that would frequently strain their relationship.
She said she witnessed him doing drugs in 2007 and sent him straight to rehab. While he never completed the course, Rodrigues said she never saw him do drugs in front of her again.
Rodrigues' credibility was called into question when she was asked if she'd hired a divorce lawyer in the final months before Gatti's death.
While the couple continued to struggle with their marriage around May 2009, Rodrigues said she was shocked and hurt to get a call from a divorce lawyer Gatti had consulted.
She had said in previous testimony that she had not secured any legal representation — but she contradicted that in testimony Wednesday where she said she had, in fact, consulted a lawyer.
She explained that she was angered by his gesture.
“That really broke my heart because I never thought it would go that far,” Rodrigues said, adding that while she frequently threatened divorce she just wanted to scare Gatti straight.
“Even when I was really angry I never thought divorce.”
Lawyers' involvement triggered a change of heart for the couple, Rodrigues testified, and they decided to try to make it work again and take a second honeymoon in Europe.
One month later, the boxer was found dead in Brazil.
Earlier Wednesday, Justice Claudine Roy asked both sides to consider attending a settlement conference before a different judge, expressing concern Gatti's money would be all dried up by the time legal proceedings were done.
Roy pointed to legal actions in Florida, outstanding income tax, plus a wrongful-death suit filed against Rodrigues last week in New Jersey that froze the boxer's assets there.
“The way things are looking, there will probably be no money left for either party by the end of all the legal procedures,” Roy said.
Roy said new documents from Rodrigues' lawyers estimate Gatti's estate is only worth about $3.4 million. Initially, the amount was believed to be more than double that.
Gatti family lawyer Carmine Mercadante says it's not unusual for a judge to suggest settlement. “I'm going to discuss it with my client and I'll tell the judge what my clients think,” Mercadante said.
But Rodrigues' lawyer, Pierre-Hugues Fortin, said his client's decision is firm.
“My client is not willing to settle the case at this stage. This is her final decision,” Fortin said.
Despite the judge's mention of compromise, the trial continued Wednesday with the cross-examination of Ida Gatti — the boxer's mother.
The Gattis claim Arturo was pressured, weeks before his death in 2009, into signing a will that left everything to Rodrigues. They want it declared invalid.
They say Gatti had a second, earlier will — which has gone missing — leaving his fortune to the family.
Fortin questioned how hard the Gatti family had actually looked for an original will, supposedly drafted in 2007. Apart from looking at the bank, Ida Gatti said she didn't look very hard.
She also testified that she'd not been in Arturo Gatti's room in the basement of her home or gone through any of his things.
Fortin asked if a signed copy of the 2007 will might be in Gatti's bedroom at her house.
“I don't know, I didn't look,” the 67-year-old woman replied through an Italian-speaking translator.
So Fortin made a request that a bailiff do an inventory of the contents of the room later Wednesday.
Ida Gatti did not return to complete her cross-examination, complaining of health problems. She is due back Thursday.