Skip to main content

Arturo Gatti will forever remain in (Irish) Micky Ward's heart.

The two will forever be linked as a result of their three brutally bloody but epic bouts. But to Ward, his Montreal rival was much more than just another opponent.

The two men became close friends outside the ring, with Gatti asking Ward if he was OK following their third bout as they shared a hospital room.

And Ward says he was devastated at the news of Gatti's death nearly two years ago.

"To this day, I think about him almost every day," Ward said Thursday after serving as the guest drawmaster for the $500,000 Woodbine Oaks. "I tried to kill him in the ring, not literally kill him but beat him anyway I could and I miss him like a brother."

Ward, 45, fought 51 times as a professional, compiling a 38-13 record with 27 knockouts. He held eight different world boxing titles and served as the inspiration for the Oscar-winning movie The Fighter.

But the 45-year-old American will forever be known for his legendary bouts with Gatti, the first and third being voted as Ring Magazine's fights of the year for 2002 and '03.

The fights with Gatti were also the most lucrative of Ward's illustrious career. He reportedly earned US$3 million for the trilogy.

"They mean so much," he said. "I made a lot of money from those fights but more than that I made a great friend and we'll go down in history as one of the great trilogies in boxing.

"I was just so fortunate when he was living to be able to fight him and say he was my friend because he was a great person, a great champion and just a great guy."

Ward and Gatti fought for the first time May 18 2002, with Ward registering a ninth-round knockdown of Gatti en route to a majority decision. Ring Magazine voted the bout as its top one of that year.

Six month later the two met in a rematch, with Gatti earning the hard-fought victory. In the third round, Gatti knocked Ward down, but the Irish-American not only got up but finished the bout.

The third and final fight went May 7, 2003 and again was a roller-coaster affair. Gatti dominated early however was knocked down by Ward in the sixth round.

However, Gatti went on to record the unanimous decision as both fighters again required hospital visits to deal with injuries suffered in the bout. For the second straight year, Ring Magazine named the fight its top one of '03.

"I was lying in a hospital bed and the doctor treating me says, 'There's someone who wants to see you,' and pulls the curtain back and there's Gatti," Ward said. "He looked at me and asked if I was OK."

So what was it about the two fighters that made them bring out the best in each other?

"I think our styles were just made for each other," Ward said. "I mean he could box, which he showed in the second and third fights.

"I think we were both cut from the same cloth. We'd fight until the end . . . we had a lot in common."

Ward's career wasn't without its pitfalls.

A three-time Golden Gloves champion in New England, Ward turned pro in 1985 and won his first 14 bouts. But after four straight losses, he left the sport in 1991 and worked paving roads.

It was then that Ward underwent surgery on his right hand - where bone from his pelvis was used to strengthen and fuse bones in the hand. And when his half-brother Dicky Eklund, who was also a former boxer, was released from jail on charges that included drug possession, he convinced Ward to return to the ring.

Ward ultimately did in 1994 and two years later captured the WBU Intercontinental light welterweight title. In 2000, at age 34, Ward claimed the WBU world light welterweight crown with a technical knockout of England's Shea (The Shamrock Express) Neary.

These days boxing has taken a back seat among fight fans with the emergence of the hugely popular UFC and mixed marital arts in general. While Ward believes boxing will never fade away, he does say the sport is in desperate need of a huge bout involving name fighters - like a welterweight mega showdown between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr., for example - to reclaim its lustre.

"We need a big fight out there," Ward said. "We need a Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather Jr. fight.

"That's the fight that's going to bring the fans back to boxing. Hopefully they can fight and if not, I don't think boxing is going to go anywhere but hopefully they do."