by David P. Greisman
This will not be a popular article. There will be many angered by what is written within, and understandably so.
This is not my intention. I am no attention-seeking contrarian. I am just a boxing writer who was a fan of Arturo Gatti before I ever confronted my first deadline, and I remained enamored with the man who truly earned and epitomized his nicknames.
He was “Thunder” with both hands. He was a man for whom the description of “blood and guts warrior” was always appropriate and never hyperbolic. He was a beloved hero who often sacrificed style in favor of substance, cast off defense in favor of offense, and became the “Human Highlight Reel” as a result.
I am a writer who could never truly stay objective when it came to Gatti.
I am a writer who will not be voting for him to enter the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
This is the decision being debated over the next few weeks by members of the Boxing Writers Association of America and other voters, all of whom received their ballots in the mail last week. Those voting can select up to 10 names from the “modern” category. The fighters with the top three vote totals will be inducted into Canastota in 2013; the winners will likely be announced by the end of this year.
The most recent class of modern inductees included Thomas Hearns, Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson and, posthumously, Cocoa Kid. The three new names added to the ballot this year were Gatti, former light heavyweight champion and cruiserweight titleholder Virgil Hill, and former light heavyweight titleholder Henry Maske.
We knew the day would come when we’d have to make this decision; Gatti retired in 2007 after losing to Alfonso Gomez, his second straight defeat and the third time he’d been stopped in four fights. He became eligible this year, five years after he hung up his gloves, as did another warrior who died too early, Diego Corrales — though Corrales is not listed on the ballot. (Corrales died in 2007, Gatti in 2009.)
And if there is any year in which it is most likely that Gatti will be voted in, it’s this one. Three people will be voted in, and none of them are necessarily shoo-ins.
The past few years have seen several fighters inducted after languishing on the ballot for years, including Jung-Koo Chang, Cocoa Kid and Lloyd Marshall. That means that 42 of the 45 names on the ballot have failed to get enough voters for at least one year — and a majority of them for much, much longer than that. Naseem Hamed is the one name most likely to cross the threshold, if any of them do.
As for Hill and Maske, while bothwere more accomplished boxers than Gatti and have recognizable names, they don’t have the kind of acclaim among an electorate that, by definition, is based in the United States and favors the famed and the familiar.
That changes next year, when the ballots sent out in October 2013 for induction in 2014 will most likely include these three locks for Canastota, all of which last fought in 2008: Joe Calzaghe, Oscar De La Hoya and Felix Trinidad.
This is the year for Gatti, then. There is no requirement, as with the Baseball Hall of Fame, that any inductee be selected by 75 percent of the voters. He need only be among the top three, a possibility not only because of this year’s candidates — but also because of emotion.
Gatti represented so much of what is great about boxing. He was both drama-friendly and action-friendly, each going — appropriately — hand in hand with the other. He brought us to our feet with come-from-behind victories over Wilson Rodriguez and Gabriel Ruelas. And he kept us on our feet with four wars that won recognition as the best fight of the year: the win in 1997 against Ruelas, his first loss to Ivan Robinson in 1998, his defeat against Micky Ward in 2002 in the opening bout of their famed trilogy, and Gatti’s victory in their rubber match in 2003.
He was great for the sport without being great at the sport. He was a warrior out of necessity; he could be hit and hurt by second- and third-tier opponents. His skin swelled. His eyes shut. His power and his guts and his chin and his heart were all he had. And he had a surplus of all.
Those are all great reasons to love Arturo Gatti — they were why I did, and why I still do.
But those reasons are not enough to get me to vote for him.
Those inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame are supposed to be the best of the best. For the “modern” category, the induction criteria call for voting to “be based upon a boxer’s achievements in the ring as a professional boxer.”
There is a gray area here. To some, this might mean considering Gatti’s status as an entertaining warrior. To others, however, voting comes down to who a fighter beat and what titles and championships he earned.
That is the standard voters apply to other boxers. Gatti won world titles at junior lightweight and junior welterweight. He was never the best in those divisions, however, nor could he even be considered as being among the best.
Some will point to select names in the Hall of Fame as examples of people who didn’t deserve to be in there —three fighters often cited being former heavyweight champion Ingemar Johannson, former featherweight champion Barry McGuigan and former junior middleweight champion Terry Norris.
But the bar should remain high and not be lowered by past inductees.
And here’s where the truth of the matter lies: A boxer can be commemorated in the Hall of Fame without being inducted into it.
The building in the small Upstate New York town of Canastota includes photos and trunks and gloves and other boxing memorabilia from a number of fighters — and a number of fights. Just as baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown includes various items from history — while reserving the greatest honors for the greatest players — so, too, does the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
The memories of Arturo Gatti can adorn the walls in Canastota without placing a plaque alongside the best boxers in history.
Gatti wasn’t one of the best boxers in history. Yet that’s why we loved him — because he had to turn to his power and his guts and his chin and his heart, and because he truly earned and epitomized those nicknames of “Thunder,” of “Blood and Guts Warrior,” of the “Human Highlight Reel.”
I loved watching Arturo Gatti as a fan. I still loved watching him once I became a writer. I couldn’t stay objective with him, though that still doesn’t change my opinion. Nor does that opinion make any difference when it comes to his reputation.
No, Arturo Gatti shouldn’t have “Hall of Famer” added to his list of descriptions. But he was still great in so many other ways.
The 10 Count will return next week.
“Fighting Words" appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Follow David on Twitter at @fightingwords2 or send questions and comments to [email protected]