"People will never forget this fight. It will be shown over and over and over again." —Larry Merchant
Said Lampley moments after Gatti thrust his arms into the air in victory, "You'll never see better drama for a young prospect on his way to superstardom." You'll also never see a more dead-even fight in terms of stats. Rodriguez out-threw Gatti, 449 to 445. Rodriguez out-landed Gatti, 237 to 236. They both landed at a 53 percent connect rate. It was that kind of fight. "People will never forget this fight," Merchant insisted. "It will be shown over and over and over again."
To an extent, Merchant was right. However, somewhat limiting the need for constant replays of Gatti-Rodriguez was the fact that Gatti kept providing live recreations for the next decade. The next year, he was in the Fight of the Year against Gabriel Ruelas, another back-from-the-brink left hook knockout victory. The year after that, Gatti lost to Ivan Robinson in another Fight of the Year. His trilogy with like-minded warrior Micky Ward produced two more Fights of the Year, in 2002 and 2003. Even the "easy" fights were rarely easy. Because Gatti just wasn't wired that way.
"I remember when he was fighting Calvin Grove on CBS in 1997, Grove's moving a lot, and for the first three rounds, Arturo's boxing, he looks beautiful," Lynch recalls. "But from the fourth round on, it's balls to the wall. I mean, he just engaged in a war. He got stitched up after that fight, and he's sitting in the doctor's office, and I'm like, 'Arturo, I don't understand. You could have won an easy decision.' And he looks up at me, he says, 'You think I wanted to be patient and chase him for 10 rounds? I'd rather get punched in the face.' That's what he said to me. How do you answer that?"
While Gatti was turning himself into a folk hero, Rodriguez was turning into a footnote. He got another shot on HBO, losing a decision to Angel Manfredy in '97, won a few more small fights in Spain, then lost an eight-rounder in '99 to unknown Miguel Angel Pena and retired at age 33. He exited the sport quietly and has remained out of the public eye ever since.
If it's not a fairytale ending, it's at least a happier one than Gatti's. Two years after a knockout loss to Alfonso Gomez ended his career in 2007, Gatti was found dead in a hotel room in his wife's homeland of Brazil at age 37. The death was initially ruled a homicide and Gatti's widow was arrested, but Brazilian authorities later declared it a suicide. After follow-up investigations and multiple autopsies, the cause of death remains a subject of debate and uncertainty.
That horrific tragedy was followed by the ultimate honor in 2012, when Gatti was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Had he been the sort of guy to box his way cautiously to easy decision wins, maybe he would have lived longer, and maybe he wouldn't have been a Hall of Famer. But Gatti was the kind of guy who, to use his own words, preferred to get punched in the face.