'You're in paradise now'

MATHIEU TURBIDE, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 9:23 AM ET

MONTREAL -- Arturo Gatti always knew how to bring in the crowds.

That much was clear yesterday as nearly a thousand people crowded into a Montreal church gave the fighter a standing ovation as his family was presented with one final championship belt.

The 37-year-old boxer, who grew up in Montreal before going on to boxing glory in the U.S., was given a moving farewell in the heart of the city's Little Italy, as hundreds of people came to pay their respects.

Near the end of the ceremony, presented in Italian, English and French, Gatti received a posthumous homage from the World Boxing Council.

Montreal referee Gerry Bolen presented Gatti's mother Ida with a championship belt. "The WBC voted unanimously to present this honour to your son who will live forever in the memory of boxing fans," WBC president Jose Sulaiman said in a letter read by a family friend, noting the boxer made a significant contribution to his sport.

There were tears in the eyes of Gatti's mother as she left the church, holding the belt in her outstretched arms. As she came out, a wave of applause came through the crowd of hundreds of mourners gathered outside in the street, which had been closed for the event. The crowd began chanting "Gatti, Gatti, Gatti," just like they had whenever he was in the ring.

Among the many active and retired boxers on hand was "Irish "Mickey Ward, who became friends with Gatti after their trilogy of classic brawls in 2002 and 2003. He said Gatti had planned to visit him at his home near Boston later this month.

WARD RECALLS BATTLES

"It's unfortunate because he's just too young for this to happen," Ward said as he fought off tears after the service. "It's a sad day.

"It was great going toe-to-toe with him. It wasn't great getting hit, but that's the game. After we fought three times we had a great relationship. I think it was more important to both of us that we were friends instead of just rivals."

Dozens of the boxer's friends and colleagues came from Jersey City, where the fighter was based as a pro.

"I remember him when he came to New York with his things in a plastic bag. No money, but a big dream, a big heart and a big smile," said Mario Costa, a Jersey bar owner who took the Gatti brothers under his wing after their arrival. "You're in paradise now, champion," he added.

Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy also sent his condolences to the Gatti family. Many members of the boxing and Italian communities attended the funeral. Boxers Jean Pascal, Lucian Bute, Vittorio Salvatore, as well as several boxing promoters, including Yvon Michel, all came to say their final goodbyes to the man known as "Thunder."

A letter was also read from former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson.


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