It ended pretty much the way it started.
Two warriors desperate to win threw caution aside to slug with an abandon that only they could muster. The combatants ignored the exhaustion that had crept into their bones and hurled bombs at one another.
Arturo Gatti connected with a flurry with about one minute left in the fight and then backed off. Micky Ward sighed heavily, lumbered forward and slammed a right cross to the side of Gatti's head. He held him with his left and then repeated the shot.
And then back came Gatti...
Such is how it went for the better part of three fights; 30 rounds of sheer violence and brutal destruction. If the second fight was the "boring" one, the third made up for it with flying colors.
Gatti started strong, boxing similarly to the way he did in the second fight. Ward was unable to land anything of note.
He couldn't land his trademark body shots; Gatti’s footwork wouldn’t allow for it to happen. Ward finally caught up to Gatti in the fourth round, when Gatti injured his hand and Ward landed a vicious body shot.
From then on; the boxing clinic turned back into a four-fisted war.
Gatti fought in agony from the fourth round on, wincing several times when landing his right hand. Ward, seeing that Gatti was injured, fired away with everything he could muster.
Ward was down on the cards when, in the closing seconds of the sixth round, he landed a looping right hand that caught Gatti on the side of the head. Gatti went down, but the bell sounded before Ward could capitalize on the shot.
Gatti recovered incredibly well between rounds and took over for the rest of the fight. Ward never stopped coming forward and certainly never stopped throwing, but he couldn’t land anything significant.
The last round saw the two men throwing power punches until the last second of the round, and then they embraced. As they wrapped their arms around one another, their bloody faces lit up with the realization that they had done something historic.
They would be forever entwined; two 140-pound men who fought like giants, gripping the millions of fans who watched their battles so tightly that even though the years would move on, the feeling of amazement would never subside.
Ward retired after the fight as he said he would. The Irishman from Lowell, Mass., had nothing left to prove.
Gatti continued his career, fighting seven more times. His skills had eroded by the time he met Carlos Baldomir in 2006, and he was stopped in the ninth round of their welterweight title fight. He recruited his pal Micky Ward to train him for what would be his final fight, against Alfonso Gomez.
Gatti was beaten badly. In a poignant moment, Ward embraced his old friend after the referee stopped the fight.
It was only fitting that Ward joined Gatti in the ring for Gatti’s final tilt.
Gatti was posthumously inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame in December of last year, three-and-a-half years after his bizarre death. He’ll forever be celebrated as one of the most beloved fighters in the history of the sport.
A modern-day Rocky, Arturo Gatti joined forces with Ward to create a trilogy to which all trilogies will be compared. Their fights transcended the sport and made them heroes.
Ward enjoyed some success out of the ring. In 2010 the Mark Wahlberg movie The Fighter, a biographical drama based on Ward's life, was released. It was universally praised.
Ten years ago today, one of the greatest trilogies in boxing history came to an end. There were no belts on the line. There was no hyperbole. There were simply two fighters battling like their lives depended on winning. No retreat. No surrender.
We’re going to see a fighter get robbed by a terrible decision. We’re going to see a proposed bout thrown away because of warring promoters.
We’ll also see sanctioning bodies hand over belts to guys just because they want a little more of the pie. We’ll shake our heads in disgust and we’ll be asked by our friends, “why do you like this sport?”
We’ll show them the Gatti/Ward trilogy.
Then we’ll ask “how could we not?”