By Keith Idec
Micky Ward is about as authentic a man as you possibly could meet.
Ward was so refreshingly real that Arturo Gatti gained a friend for life that magical May 2002 night in Connecticut. They had just completed one of the most unbelievably brutal battles in boxing history at Mohegan Sun Arena, but the unassuming Ward was able to connect with Gatti’s soul in the emergency room that night as easily as his hands connected with Gatti’s body and head in the ring.
They remained close friends until Gatti’s mysterious death 17 months ago in Brazil, but Ward was never the larger-than-life figure Gatti became. He was just an unusually brave brawler from Lowell, Mass., a no-nonsense guy who went back to operating a steamroller even after making millions for his trilogy against Gatti.
These are among the reasons Mark Wahlberg was hellbent on making “The Fighter,” despite that buddies Brad Pitt and Matt Damon separately bailed on the project.
The early reviews of the movie, which hit theaters nationwide this past Friday, have been very favorable. Some reviewers have even deemed the film Oscar-worthy.
Unfortunately, one of the central themes of a movie “based on a true story” is a complete lie. As likeable and tough as he was, Micky Ward was never a world champion.
Producers of “The Fighter” falsely claim that Ward’s fight against then-unbeaten Englishman Shea Neary was Ward’s world title shot. The truth is, Ward won the lightly regarded World Boxing Union junior welterweight title by scoring an eighth-round technical knockout victory over Neary on March 11, 2000.
Non-boxing fans won’t know, and might not care, frankly, that Ward wasn’t a recognized 140-pound champion after defeating Neary. But Neary didn’t own one of boxing’s four recognized world titles, and was not considered an elite junior welterweight at the time, much less the best.
The 22-0 record Neary took into his fight against Ward, which was televised by HBO from London, was built on beating suspect competition. Ward was 34-9 entering that fight, yet he had lost to Frankie Warren, Charles Murray, Vince Phillips and Zab Judah before beating Neary. Phillips stopped Ward in the third round of Ward’s lone legitimate title shot, on Aug. 9, 1997, in Boston.
What’s more perplexing about “The Fighter” is why its creators chose to use a fringe title shot as an important part of the movie, rather than the first Gatti-Ward fight, a legendary brawl Ward won by majority decision.
Ward and Gatti engaged in made-for-the-movies drama during that unforgettable fight. Using it seemingly would’ve made a good movie even better.
Keith Idec covers boxing for The Record and Herald News, of Woodland Park, N.J., and BoxingScene.com.