Whether young or old, sick or healthy, celebrities have been dying at a hell of a clip: David Carradine, Farrah, MJ, Karl Malden, Steve McNair, Ed McMahon, Sky Saxon, even Robert McNamara (yet, somehow, Mickey Rooney and Abe Vigoda live). Now, the boxing world, still absorbing the suspicious "suicide" of the great Alexis Arguello, a four-time world champ from Nicaragua who was elected mayor of Managua last fall, has lost another ring giant. Arturo "Thunder" Gatti was strangled at a Brazilian resort this past weekend. Local authorities have charged his wife with murder. They were reportedly on a second honeymoon. A charismatic fighter, Gatti is best remembered for his epic trilogy of fights with Lowell, Massachusetts's "Irish" Mickey Ward. However, here in Maine, fight fans should also recall Gatti's unfortunate connection to the greatest fighter Vacationland ever produced, two-time world champ Joey Gamache.
Lewiston's Gamache is Maine's only world-champion boxer, winning the WBA Super Featherweight (130 lbs.) crown in 1991, and the WBA Lightweight (135 lbs.) belt a year later. But Gamache's title runs were short, with both reigns coming between June 1991 and October 1992. When Gamache fought Gatti in Madison Square Garden, in February 2000, Thunder Gatti represented Gamache's biggest fight since losing to Julio Cesar Chavez three years earlier. This meant things were looking up for Joey. A good competitive match would help him get better fights, and a win would move him back towards the top of the division, but that's not how it went. Allegations of fraud surrounded the weigh-in before the fight, and, according to various sources, Gatti entered the ring weighing between 15 to 19 pounds above the contract-specified 140 pounds.
I only saw Joey Gamache fight once. It was August 1995. Gamache faced a left-handed journeyman from Kansas City named Tony Enna, in a Beale Street theater, down in Memphis. Enna's unusual southpaw stance, the boxing equivalent of skateboarding goofy-foot, posed Gamache no problems. Enna never laid leather on Joey. He just lunged at Gamache, and then tried to cover up as Joey feinted, and then reappeared somewhere else at a new angle, busting Enna's face up with stiff jabs that never stopped coming. Soon, Enna's poor mug looked like it had been dragged to Memphis behind a truck, and after a few rounds, the beating became so bloodily savage that the fight got hard to watch. His corner threw in the towel in the seventh round.
If Gamache had 15 to 19 pounds on the already out-classed Enna that night, Enna might have died, which is what nearly happened to Gamache when he fought Gatti under the same circumstances at MSG. Gatti destroyed Gamache in 2000, brutally knocking him out in the second round. Gamache was in a coma for a day after the bout, and ended up suffering brain damage. He never fought again, but Gamache did file lawsuits against Gatti and the New York State Athletic Association, accusing the former of not making the contracted weight, and the latter of negligence in conducting the weigh-in. The lawsuits have finally made it to court, and Arturo Gatti was scheduled to give testimony this week. How his death will affect the legal proceedings is not yet clear.
Gamache never blamed Gatti personally, recently telling the New York Daily News, "He was a fighter and he did what he was supposed to do." Joey Gamache was a man about it, so as Thunder Gatti's family and fans mourn his loss, and rightfully seek justice, let's not forget Maine's greatest fighter. Joey Gamache deserves justice, too.
Rick Wormwood can be reached at email@example.com.