Arturo "Thunder" Gatti didn't live to see his finest day.
Gatti, who won world championships in two different weight classes, heads the class of 2013 to be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. The honor, announced Monday, comes three years after his untimely death.
A native of Calabria, Italy who was raised in Montreal, Gatti retired in 2007 with a record of 40-9 with 31 knockouts and was selected in his first year of eligibility. Gatti died three years ago in Brazil at age 37 under mysterious circumstances.
"He gave it all in the ring," said "Irish" Micky Ward, who had three memorable bouts with Gatti. "He gave everything to the sport of boxing. He gave the fans what they wanted."
Also selected for induction were: Virgil "Quicksilver" Hill, a five-time world champion who won a silver medal at the 1984 Olympics and defended his light heavyweight title 20 times over his two reigns; two-time light flyweight champion Myung-Woo Yuh of South Korea; lightweight Wesley Ramey and middleweight Jeff Smith in the old-timer (posthumous) category; 19th century Irish boxer Joe Coburn in the pioneer category; referee Mills Lane; ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr.; manager Arturo "Cuyo" Hernandez; cartoonist Ted Carroll; and journalist Colin Hart.
Inductees were selected by the Boxing Writers Association and a panel of international boxing historians. Induction ceremonies will be held June 9 at the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, N.Y.
His relentless style made Gatti a crowd favorite.
"Arturo was a throwback-type fighter like (Jake) LaMotta or (Rocky) Graziano," Ward said. "He could also switch it off. He could brawl if he had to, and he could box as well as anybody. He had them both."
Ward won the first junior welterweight fight against Gatti, blood streaming down his face as he captured a majority decision in May 2002. Gatti avenged the loss in Atlantic City, N.J., knocking Ward down in the third with a punch that shattered one of Ward's eardrums and sent him face-first into a stanchion. Gatti broke his right hand in the fight and won a unanimous 10-round decision.
Gatti, who moved to Jersey City, N.J., as a teenager, triumphed over Ward with a 10-round decision in the rubber match in June 2003, and it was another brutal slugfest. It wasn't a title fight but had that feel as a raucous sellout crowd of 12,643 — the largest ever for a non-heavyweight fight in Atlantic City — packed Boardwalk Hall.
Gatti became a legend in New Jersey, and fans flocked to Atlantic City for years to see his fights. His bouts became an event in that seaside town, something the whole region rallied around. Gatti became the first draw to attract more than 100,000 fans through the Boardwalk Hall turnstiles since it reopened in 2001.
As such, he is often credited as reinvigorating the state's proud passion for the sport, and Boardwalk Hall is often referred to, in fight circles, as "The House of Gatti."
In the famous 2003 fight, Gatti was in control for most of the bout, outpunching Ward and never allowing him to get close enough to throw one of his signature left hooks to the body.
Bleeding from an early pounding, Ward rallied after Gatti reinjured the right hand he'd broken seven months earlier. Over the last four rounds the exhausted fighters stood toe-to-toe, teeing off on one another. After the fight, the two shared a bottle of water and hugged, then went to Atlantic City Medical Center, where they lay side-by-side in the emergency room while being treated.
Gatti died in Brazil in July 2009. His body was found at an apartment that he had rented with his wife and their infant son in the seaside resort of Porto de Galinhas. Police initially held Gatti's wife as a suspect but eventually released her and concluded Gatti hung himself from a staircase railing using a handbag strap.
"The Hall of Fame is fitting for a guy who worked so hard and gave his all to the sport," said Pat Lynch, Gatti's manager. "It was an honor and a privilege for me to have managed him his entire career."
For a boxer who grew up in North Dakota, took home an Olympic silver as a middleweight, and won 50 fights as a pro, being selected for the Hall of Fame was his crowning achievement.
"It's the biggest honor that's ever been bestowed upon me," Hill said. "It's more than winning the five world titles and the Olympic silver medal. It's the biggest thing — outside of my children and wife — that's ever happened to me. It's such an honor. I know this would have meant so much to my father (who died a year ago).
This was a big thing for him. You have no idea."