Nobody could party as hard as Arturo Gatti, so it's a sad irony that he won't be there for what should have been the greatest celebration of his life.
It's induction weekend at the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, N.Y., which will culminate Sunday afternoon with the ceremony to enshrine the newest class. Gatti, elected by the Boxing Writers Association of America and a panel of historians in his first year of eligibility, should be there to accept his shiny new Hall of Fame ring and to celebrate with family, friends and fans. But he won't be.
Depending on whom you believe, he either took his own life at age 37 by hanging himself or he was murdered -- by his wife, some allege -- at the villa he and Amanda Rodrigues Gatti rented for a Brazilian beach vacation in July 2009. The details remain a mystery.
Gatti's death came almost two years to the day after his final fight, a seventh-round knockout loss to Alfonso Gomez, and an immediate retirement announcement. Gatti will never be forgotten, however, and his posthumous induction into the Hall of Fame is proof of that.
"There should still be one helluva party this weekend," said Main Events promoter Kathy Duva, whose company promoted Gatti for his 16-year career. "This would have been such a wonderful time together, celebrating. This achievement is something that would have meant the world to him. It's perfect in every way other than he won't be there with us, but he will be there in spirit. But it won't be the same."
Duva, along with Pat Lynch, Gatti's longtime manager and close friend, and Micky Ward, the fierce ring rival who became like a brother to Gatti, will stand on the stage in his place.
Also expected to be in attendance are Gatti's mother Ida, ex-girlfriend Ericka Rivera (with their daughter Sofia Bella), sister Anna-Maria and brother Fabrizio.
"I've got butterflies in my stomach, I'm so happy," Lynch said. "I can't wait to get up there and walk the grounds of the museum. All of it's going to be great, but the switch can go off and you realize that Arturo isn't there to celebrate with us. It would have been awesome to have him here and standing with Micky. They were supposed to grow old together and tell their war stories.
"So as happy as I am that he is going into the Hall of Fame, it's so sad. We're there to celebrate him, and we'll do our best. This is a huge accomplishment. I believe he truly deserved it, and shame on those who didn't vote for him."
Gatti's election did stir some controversy, although nobody would have enjoyed induction weekend and being a Hall of Famer more than "Thunder" Gatti (40-9, 31 KOs), a former junior lightweight and junior welterweight titleholder but, more important, the quintessential action fighter of his generation.
It isn't the titles that he won that made Gatti a Hall of Famer. Critics will point to the facts that he was never the best fighter in his division (he wasn't) and that he never beat truly elite opponents (he didn't). But to view Gatti's career through that narrow prism is to miss the point completely.
What Gatti was goes beyond just a belt or two. He was the single most exciting fighter of his time, and it wasn't close. He was universally revered by fans and other boxers for the crazy brawls and bloodbaths he engaged in, the heart he showed and the fact that he created countless new boxing fans.
From 2002 to 2007, there was nothing in boxing more exhilarating than a Gatti fight weekend in Atlantic City, N.J., where he was the boxing franchise and filled Boardwalk Hall for the final nine fights of his career.
"The Human Highlight Reel," as Gatti was often called, is most famous for the epic trilogy he had with Ward, ending the rivalry ahead 2-1 and with Ward as one of his best friends.
In all, boxing's ultimate blood-and-guts warrior participated in four Ring Magazine fights of the year, one of boxing's highest honors. Nobody who saw those fights will forget them: 1997 (Gabriel Ruelas), 1998 (Ivan Robinson I), 2002 (Ward I) and 2003 (Ward III).
And there were other fights filled with excitement: Wilson Rodriguez (1996, a knockout win for Gatti in one of the greatest comebacks ever), Jose Sanabria (1994), Calvin Grove (1997), Robinson II (1998), Angel Manfredy (1998) and the underrated fight with Oscar De La Hoya (2001) among them.
Gatti didn't win all those battles, but does anyone care? What matters to people is that they were moved and excited by what they saw, time and again, as Gatti was involved in so many ridiculously exciting fights. That counts for something, and that's why he is being inducted into the Hall of Fame.
"He used to talk about the Hall of Fame all the time," Duva said. "He'd say, 'Do you think they'll ever put me in the Hall of Fame? Am I good enough? I'm not a technical boxer.' He'd say, 'They'll never put me in.' I said, 'Of course they will. You're special. You bring a whole different reason why you should be in.' Some people get in for great skill, some for great heart and entertainment. It would have meant so much to him.
"When he said to me, 'I don't think they'll put me in,' I said, 'You're in the fight of the year all the time, and they can't ignore that.' Arturo was special, and he deserves to be there."
The new Hall of Fame class also includes former cruiserweight and light heavyweight titleholder Virgil Hill, two-time junior flyweight titleholder Yuh Myung-woo of South Korea, former referee Mills Lane, ring announcer "The Classy" Jimmy Lennon Jr. and British writer Colin Hart.
Also elected were lightweight Wesley Ramey and middleweight Jeff Smith in the old-timer category, manager Arturo "Cuyo" Hernandez in the nonparticipant category, cartoonist Ted Carroll in the observer category and Joe Coburn in the pioneer category.
Gatti, who was born in Italy, was raised in Montreal and called New Jersey home, is the biggest name in this year's class. Many from his legion of fans figure to be on hand to celebrate his induction along with those close to him.
"I know the first thing he would say in a speech is that he would thank all of his fans," Lynch said. "He always thanked them for their support. They were always there for him, win or lose. They loved him as much as he loved them. He made comments all the time that he fought for the fans."
Although Lynch and Ward are expected to make remarks, Lynch said he'll leave the heavy lifting to Duva.
"I've had a bunch of different things going through my head and I was going to prepare a speech, but I didn't," Lynch said. "What I say will come from the heart, but tears will be shed this weekend."
Duva said she doesn't plan to speak for long.
"We're going to find out if I can get through it," she said. "I got through his eulogy when we had a memorial in New Jersey for him, and it was a much longer speech, and I didn't start crying until the last few words. There's no crying in boxing, so I will find a way to get through it."
Gatti, if he could be there, undoubtedly would thoroughly enjoy his biggest day.
"The Hall of Fame was like the stamp of approval, and he always wanted the approval from everybody," said Main Events' Jolene Mizzone, who was close to Gatti and will be in attendance. "The Hall of Fame was something he always talked about. It was a big deal to him. You don't hear other fighters talk about it."
"He mentioned the Hall of Fame numerous times," Lynch said. "I know it's always something he dreamed of and always wanted. So it will be a proud day for all of us."
And just as it will be for those closest to him, so too will it be for Gatti Nation.
"I'm just so sorry he won't be there to enjoy it," Duva said. "I can't put into words how much it meant to him. I've known a lot of boxers and a lot who are in the Hall of Fame, and I can't recall any of them saying they wanted to be in the Hall of Fame. But he talked about it a lot, and he was painfully aware of the competing concepts on why he should or shouldn't be in.
"But he brought so many people to this sport, who became fans as a direct result of his fights. That's quite a legacy."
And it should make for quite a party.