Arturo (Thunder) Gatti celebrates his fifth-round KO of Gabriel Ruelas in defence of the IBF junior lightweight championship at Atlantic City in 1996. Gatti, who was born in Italy and raised in Montreal, is on the ballot for the International Boxing Hall of Fame's class of 2013. (QMI Agency file)
EDMONTON - As a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America, every October I'm asked to cast a ballot for the annual induction of Ômodern' (post-1943) fighters into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York.
In the recent past, inductees in their initial year of eligibility have all been slamdunks: Lennox Lewis, Mike Tyson, Thomas Hearns.
Not so for the class of 2013.
While this year's list of debut candidates is short Ñ just three nominees Ñ one name has already sparked heated debate on both sides of the issue: the late Arturo Gatti.
Respected fellow BWAA member Lyle Fitzsimmons has even coined a catchy label for supporters of Gatti, who was found dead of an apparent suicide in Brazil in 2011: "Arturopoligists."
Active from 1991-2007, the Italian-born, Montreal-raised Gatti won the IBF super featherweight title in 1995 and made three successful defences. In 2004, he moved up to capture the WBC junior welterweight crown and defended it twice. He was 8-3 with 5 KOs against champions and Hall of Famers, including two wins over Tracy Harris Patterson and KOs of Gabriel Ruelas, Joey Gamache and Jesse James Leija.
Gatti also appeared in four bouts that were named Fight of the Year by The Ring (vs. Ruelas, Ivan Robinson and Micky Ward, twice), and his 1997 stoppage of Ruelas was voted KO of the Year.
Based strictly on the numbers, Gatti's career mark of 40-9 (31 KOs) doesn't warrant Hall of Fame induction. He was stopped by Oscar De La Hoya in 2001 and suffered a horrific beating en route to losing his WBC title to Floyd Mayweather Jr. four years later. Knockout losses to the likes of Angel Manfredy and Alfonso Gomez were embarrassing. And in his last world title fight Ñ challenging Carlos Baldomir for the WBC welterweight crown in 2006 Ñ Gatti twice hit the deck before being stopped in nine rounds.
For my money, however, you can throw away the numbers because Gatti's career was about so much more. In his case, wins and losses should take a back seat to two intangibles that can never be quantified by cold statistics or the tale of the tape: visceral, almost religious crowd appeal, and the enormity of his heart.
Like a real-life Rocky Balboa, more than any fighter of his generation Gatti personified everything noble and good that boxing used to embody: action, courage and compelling drama.
Indeed, since his epic trilogy with Micky Ward (2002-03), Gatti's name has entered the sport's lexicon as a favourite way for television commentators to describe stirring comebacks, as in: "He's going all Gatti on him" or, "that ninth round was Gatti-esque."
When Gatti's critics dismiss him as a glorified club fighter, I cringe. Time and again he showcased a varied skill set that made him equally adept at boxing or brawling, and his trademark propensity for one-punch-from-annihilation comebacks easily made him, in my opinion, the greatest action fighter of the past quarter century.
One other thing Ñ and it's a biggie. Nowhere in the induction criteria for Canastota does it say that Hall of Fame enshrinement is exclusive to "the best of the best" champions or fighters who could hold their own with the all-time greats in their weight class.
The key word is FAME Ñ and Gatti had it in spades. For the better part of two decades the man they called ÔThunder' did more to keep boxing in the spotlight than any other puncher on the planet.
For that alone, I'm marking his name on my ballot, along with fellow first-time nominees Virgil Hill and Henry Maske.
The first clue that the newly-minted ‘National Boxing Authority' is about as welcome as root canal surgery is the advisory that "the NBA recognizes all professional bouts, including those comprised of two-minute rounds, which have been sanctioned by boxing commissions worldwide."
Good luck with that one. The fledgling New Brunswick-based organization is ignoring the fact that all of boxing's legitimate sanctioning bodies have already deemed two-minute rounds for male fights unacceptable.