CANASTOTA, N.Y. – Boosted so she could reach the microphone and speak on a most special day for her late father, 7-year-old Sofia Gatti beamed.
“Thank you from my dad,” she said Sunday as Arturo “Thunder” Gatti was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
On a day that included six deceased inductees, Gatti remained fresh on the mind of everybody, especially his longtime manager Pat Lynch.
“It’s a tremendous accomplishment for Arturo. This little girl here shall have this memory forever,” said Lynch, who fought back tears when he spoke. “It was so great to see his mom and all of them come down to celebrate such a brilliant career. It’s a truly deserving award for him. I know he’s looking down with a big smile on his face.”
Also inducted 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 Yuh Myung-woo 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, whose “Let’s get it on” prefight chant endeared him to boxing fans; 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.
Born in Calabria, Italy and raised in Montreal, Gatti moved to Jersey City, New Jersey, as a teenager. He retired in 2007 with a record of 40-9 with 31 knockouts and won titles in two divisions.
Gatti died at age 37 in Brazil in July 2009. His body was found at an apartment that he had rented with his wife and their infant son in a seaside resort. 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.
He was selected for the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.
“He always used to say to us, ‘Do you think I’m going to be in the Hall of Fame?’ ” Lynch said. “I said, ‘Of course. They can’t stop you from being in the Hall of Fame. You’re deserving.’ It’s just a great celebration.”
“Irish” Micky Ward had three memorable bouts with Gatti. Ward won his 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, New Jersey, knocking down Ward 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 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 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.
Small wonder that Ward was touched on this day.
“It’s funny how I became great friends with him,” said Ward, who spoke briefly. “Even though he beat me, I miss him to death every day. I know he’s here. I’m just happy for his family. I’m proud of him like you wouldn’t believe. With the people being here and his family and friends and his daughter being here, it made it worthwhile.”
The 76-year-old Lane, who suffered a stroke in 2002 that left him partially paralyzed and unable to speak, was helped onstage by his two sons. Lane, who refereed the infamous “bite fight” between Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield, waved triumphantly to the crowd, holding aloft his new ring and smiling broadly.
“This is the happiest I’ve seen him, which is so important,” Tommy Lane said. “We’ll treasure this the rest of our lives. Let’s get it on!”
Touched, too, by the moment, Lennon credited his dad, a ring announcer for nearly a half-century, with his success. Lennon, who began his career as a backup to his father at the Olympic Auditorium and the Forum in Los Angeles before moving to Showtime in 1991, said it felt odd getting inducted before his dad and made a pitch for that to happen.
“He used to tell me what I did well instead of what I did wrong,” Lennon said. “When his health was failing and he was in the hospital and not able to get the fights on TV, he would be on the phone with my mom on the other end holding her receiver up to the television so he could at least hear me announce.”
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