By Keith Idec
Like most of us, Jerry Ferrara was mesmerized the night of May 18, 2002.
A mostly unknown actor at the time, the self-professed boxing junkie tuned in to HBO that Saturday evening figuring he’d see something more than worthwhile. Already a big Arturo Gatti fan, Ferrara watched in amazement as Gatti and Micky Ward went back and forth for 10 ridiculously rough rounds that amounted to one of the most unforgettable fights in the sport’s storied history.
“I remember watching that first Gatti-Ward fight, kind of by accident,” Ferrara told BoxingScene.com on Friday, the fifth anniversary of Gatti’s tragic death in Brazil. “I was home, not really doing anything, turned it on. It was a small venue, [6,254] people, and was treated to the best fight I’ve ever seen in my lifetime. And I obviously was rooting for Gatti before that, just because of his roots on the East Coast. I was just a big Arturo Gatti fan, cemented by the Micky Ward fights.”
Fast forward 12 years, and Ferrara’s fondness for Gatti has helped earn the blossoming big-screen commodity a role he readily recognizes will be extremely challenging. Ferrara will play Gatti in an untitled biopic about the late legend’s life, which ended amid mysterious circumstances July 11, 2009, on the blood-stained floor of an oceanside villa in Porto de Galihnas, Brazil.
Mark Wahlberg, who played Ward in the Academy Award-nominated film “The Fighter,” and football star-turned-talk show host Michael Strahan are among those who’ve agreed to be executive producers of the Gatti movie. Ferrara was chosen for the role following a meeting last year that included him, his agent, Brad Slater, and Pat Lynch, Gatti’s career-long manager.
“I think at the time Pat and everyone else involved was just trying to see what the fit was,” Ferrara said, “and Brad kind of put it together on my end. I think Pat knew a little bit about me, but didn’t know I was a big fight fan. And I used to be 205 pounds, so I don’t know how aware he was that I got into shape. We had one meeting with Pat, and I told him I’d treat it like an honor and a privilege. And I gave him my word, on my father’s grave, that if I didn’t think I could do it, I would quit. I wouldn’t do it, because I would never want to disrespect boxing and more importantly Arturo and his family. I would bow out gracefully if I didn’t think I could do it. I think that might’ve impressed Pat and I think we were always on the same page, that this is an honor story, that it’s about honoring what he stood for, how he lived and how he fought. Obviously, the ending is as tragic as it gets. But I want people leaving the theater, once we make this movie, feeling as good as they possibly can, even with the tragic ending.”
Ferrara, a Hollywood veteran who first worked with Wahlberg on the HBO hit series “Entourage,” fully understands it could take years, not mere months, before filming begins. That hasn’t stopped the 34-year-old actor from immersing himself in training to properly prepare for the role. In addition to working with FOX Sports NFL broadcaster/reporter Jay Glazer, who co-owns an MMA and boxing training facility in Hollywood with retired NFL linebacker Brian Urlacher, Ferrara also trains as much as possible at Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood.
“I’ve been finishing up the Entourage movie the past couple months,” said Ferrara, a native New Yorker whose current high-profile project, “Think Like A Man Too,” is in theaters. “But I’ve been back at it pretty aggressively, training over at Wild Card when I can and training with Jay Glazer, who’s got me throwing some power bombs. Jay’s motto is kind of, ‘I don’t want the fight to go more than three rounds, so let’s get him out of here.’ I actually was just over there [Friday] and felt like for the first time – not that I’m ever going to be able to do what a pro fighter can do – but I felt like I can put some punches together and look like I know what I’m doing.”
Ferrara feels the movie can serve several purposes, all while honoring Gatti, a beloved brawler who won world titles in two weight classes and was inducted posthumously into the International Boxing Hall of Fame 13 months ago.
He wants to convey that Gatti, though a complex person who at times lived as recklessly as he fought, was a genuinely good man who was very loyal to those closest to him. Ferrara feels the uniquely personal manager-fighter partnership Gatti and Lynch shared is vital to the story as well. And last, but certainly not least, he hopes it sheds some more light on what occurred that fateful night five years ago in Brazil.
Authorities there arrested Amanda Rodrigues, Gatti’s widow, in the immediate aftermath of the 37-year-old boxer’s death. Police suspected she was at least involved in it, in large part because she was made the sole beneficiary in his will just three weeks before he died.
They released Rodrigues 18 days after arresting her, however, and she never was charged with a crime. They later ruled his death a suicide, though Lynch, family members and friends refuse to believe he hanged himself from a small staircase, with a flimsy purse strap no less, as Brazilian authorities determined.
A Canadian government coroner conducted another autopsy once Gatti’s body was returned to his native Quebec, but his findings didn’t disprove the Brazilian government’s determination that Gatti committed suicide. Rodrigues thus was awarded Gatti’s remaining fortune – estimated at $3.4 million when a Quebec judge ruled in her favor in December 2011.
Lynch hired a team of independent investigators, who provided evidence that strongly suggests Gatti was murdered. Those findings still haven’t prompted Brazilian authorities to re-open the case, which only further frustrated family members and friends who are certain Gatti was killed.
“Pat shared all the stuff with me and I have very strong opinions of what I think happened,” Ferrara said. “When making a movie, it will be hard to come right out and say what happened. But I always thought if you really explain who he was, I think people can walk out of the theater with their own opinions. And I think that might differ from what the outcome was viewed as, at least [in Brazil]. I feel like if you look at that guy and how he lived, it’s hard to imagine he would do that to himself.”
Keith Idec covers boxing for The Record and Herald News, of Woodland Park, N.J., and BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.