Arturo Gatti—“Thunder” to boxing fans—was born in Italy and raised in Montreal. He speaks English, French, Italian, and Spanish. Some would say that’s at least three more languages than the average fighter speaks. But Gatti is no average fighter. A resident of New Jersey since 1991 and of Hoboken since 2004, Gatti has provided several lifetimes’ worth of ring drama over the course of his 15-year pro career and become one of the most beloved fighters in the sport’s history. In search of his fourth world title, on July 22 at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, Gatti will challenge World Boxing Council welterweight champion Carlos Baldomir. After Gatti’s devastating knockout loss last summer to boxing’s pound-per-pound king, “Pretty Boy” Floyd Mayweather, the experts figured that Gatti’s career was over. But as many of his opponents have learned, it’s tough to keep Gatti down. New Jersey Monthly caught up with the challenger just before he headed into the seclusion of training camp.
How did you get started in boxing?
I started hanging around gyms when I was six. My first amateur fight, I was eight years old. I just did it because it was a sport. I played soccer and hockey in Canada. It was fun, and knowing how to fight was great for me growing up because no bullies bugged me, and I was a small guy. My father passed away when I was fifteen, and that’s when I started taking it seriously. I knew school wasn’t for me. Boxing was a way to make a living, and I was good at it. I won a couple of Canadian championships, won some international fights, and I knew there was a career in it for me. I moved to New Jersey at nineteen to start my pro career.
What do you like about Hoboken?
Hoboken’s a convenient place for me. I’m always in New York City, and whatever I need in Hoboken I can just walk to go get it. The people are nice, they treat me well, and I live in a nice, professional building. I love New Jersey. I couldn’t see myself living nowhere else.
You’ve fought in a lot of great venues, including Madison Square Garden. Where does Boardwalk Hall rank?
Boardwalk Hall has been very good to me. It’s a great place to fight. My fans there love me, and I love my fans. It makes me happy that I can do something for Atlantic City.
More than anything, you’re known for an extraordinary fighting spirit—you’ve been in four Ring Magazine “Fights of the Year.” Can you explain where that comes from?
I try to be the best I can be in the ring. I work very hard at it. I put my heart and soul into my job.
Last year, after your knockout loss to Floyd Mayweather, many boxing people said you should retire. You have a lot of money—what kept you going?
When you train at your best and then you don’t fight at your best, something’s wrong. I knew I wasn’t finished, that I had to move up in weight—140 pounds wasn’t comfortable for me anymore. But it’s hard to just give up a title. Look, no excuses. I fought the best in the world, but I didn’t perform at all. Anybody who says I did, they’re blind.
If you beat Carlos Baldomir for the welterweight title, how do you want the rest of your career to play out?
I will beat Baldomir. I have no doubt in my mind. I’m here for a reason. After Baldomir, I think Miguel Cotto will be my next opponent. I have investments. We have 84 [housing] units going up in Canada; we started a couple of days ago. Once I have some investments in different fields bringing in some revenue, I’ll probably decide to retire. But for now, I make a lot of money with boxing, and I love what I do.
You’re going to be best remembered for your brutal trilogy with Mickey Ward. You guys have become close friends—he even accompanies you into the ring sometimes. How did that happen?
It just shows you that boxing is a sport. We have nothing against each other. We’re just competitive guys. It’s a lonely sport, one against one. There’s a lot of pain in the game. But me and Mickey Ward, we understand what we are. We understand who we are.
You play some golf together too.
I play mostly down in Florida, in training camp. I’m thinking about joining that new club in Jersey City [Liberty National Golf Club] this summer, although it’s very expensive. Golf’s an individual sport—when I make a mistake, I did it.
You’ve evolved from a brawler into a more disciplined boxer-puncher. Is it hard not to go back to brawling when things get tough in the ring?
It comes from ring experience. I’m a veteran of the game now, and I have no trouble controlling myself when I get hit. It’s not hard to take my time and pace myself.
What do you want people to say about you when you retire?
That I was the baddest mother—— that ever stepped into the ring! (Laughs.)
Do you think you’re a Hall of Famer?
I am, definitely. Definitely, definitely, definitely.
You just had your first child, Sofia Bella Gatti. Would you let your kids become fighters?
She’s beautiful and has brought so much joy into my life. My kids are not going to be fighters. If I have a little boy, I can’t stop him, and I’d love for him to know how to fight, to protect himself. But career-wise, I don’t know….Daddy’s gonna pay his way through life, so I doubt he’s gonna want to fight.
Joey Gamache, a fighter badly injured in a fight with you several years ago, has sued the New York State Athletic Commission, claiming in part that you gained too much weight following the weigh-in the day before. Should there be a limit on how many pounds a fighter can add after the weigh-in?
We both do the same thing. I don’t care if the guy is 20 pounds more the next day, as long as he made weight the day before. I have the same opportunity that he has. I feel bad; I hope he’s well. I don’t wish that on anybody, getting hurt in the ring. But it was a fair thing. I weighed in at 140, and whatever happened, happened. I’ll tell you what: If I was knocked out, I was not gonna sue nobody. I’m gonna wake up the next day and work harder. And gaining so much weight doesn’t help you all the time. It can make you slower….You can become sluggish. You’re not used to carrying that much weight.
Does it bother you that some people equate boxing with its worst elements—corrupt sanctioning bodies, ear-biting, incompetent judging, and so on—instead of its best elements?
Of course. When I walk into a public place—a bar, whatever—people say, “That’s Arturo Gatti, the boxer,” and I know right away that there’s negativity because I’m a fighter. We have a bad reputation because of some of the things that go on inside and outside the ring. That’s got to stop.
There’s always talk of the government cleaning up boxing, regulating it, but it never seems to happen.
Everybody wants a piece of the fighters. If the government got involved, there would be better rules, and the fighters would be taken care of. I was very fortunate in that regard. I’ve been with my manager, Patrick Lynch, and my promoter, Main Events, for a long time now, and we’re all making good money, and we’re all enjoying it.
Evan Rothman is a regular contributor to New Jersey Monthly.