MONTREAL — Arturo Gatti got one last standing ovation on Monday as his family and the boxing world paid tribute to the former world champion from Montreal whose death at a Brazilian resort on July 11 remains a mystery.
An overflow crowd of about 1,000 packed Notre Dame de la Defense church in a north-end Italian neighbourhood for the funeral of one of the sport‘s most spectacular fighters. Gatti was 37 when he died, only two years after his retirement from the ring.
Among the many active and retired boxers on hand was (Irish) Mickey Ward, who became friends with Gatti after their trilogy of classic brawls in 2002 and 2003. He said Gatti had planned to visit him at his home near Boston later this month.
“It‘s unfortunate because he‘s just too young for this to happen,“ Ward said as he fought off tears after the service. “It‘s a sad day.
“It was great going toe-to-toe with him. It wasn‘t great getting hit, but that‘s the game. After we fought three times we had a great relationship. I think it was more important to both of us that we were friends instead of just rivals.“
A highlight of the service was a presentation of an honorary World Boxing Council championship belt to Gatti‘s mother Ida by referee Gerry Bolen, which moved the congregation to stand to cheer.
As she left the church, Ida Gatti held up the belt, a gift from WBC president Jose Sulaiman, to a large crowd that had gathered on the sidewalk across the street. Gatti was a former WBC light-welterweight champion.
A letter was also read from former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, one of the few fighters more popular than Gatti during his career.
Tyson recalled first meeting a nine-year-old Gatti and his older brother Joe at a training camp in the Catskills region of New York State.
“I was always happy to see his success,“ Tyson said in his message. “I am happy to have been part of his short, exciting life.“
There was also a message from Jeremiah Healy, mayor of Jersey City, N.J., where Gatti lived during his pro career.
Gatti‘s mother and stepfather as well as his two brothers and three sisters, along with their spouses and children, took up the front rows under the domed, frescoed ceilings for a service that was read in three languages — English, French and Italian.
Kathy Duva, the CEO of Gatti‘s promoter Main Events and Carl Moretti of promoter Top Rank, also attended, as well as former IBF light-welterweight champ Buddy McGirt.
McGirt trained Gatti late in his career, including his win over Gianluca Branco for the WBC title in 2004, a second-round knockout with a body punch of Montreal lightweight Leonard Dorin, and his loss of the belt to Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2005.
The Montreal boxing community turned out en masse, including IBF super-middleweight champ Lucian Bute, WBC light heavyweight champ Jean Pascal and former world champion Joachim Alcine.
“When I was training to fight (Librado) Andrade, he came to the gym one day,“ Bute recalled. “It was great to have Arturo Gatti there.
“I watched all his fights. He was spectacular, and he was example to everyone.“
Gatti was found dead in an apartment he had rented along with is wife Amanda Rodrigues and his 10-month-old son Arturo Jr. in the Brazilian resort town of Porto de Galinhas.
Police originally suspected he was murdered by Rodrigues, although she has not been charged. A Brazilian judge ruled Monday that she would remain in jail pending a decision on her release request.
“It happened and it‘s sad, and if it happened that way, it‘s even more sad,“ said Ward.
An autopsy report suggested Gatti‘s death may also have been suicide or an accident, and police now say they cannot comment on the case until the investigation is complete.
The lawyer for 23-year-old Rodrigues petitioned via two legal channels for her release. Judge Fausto Campos in Recife, Brazil, denied her release request, but said her petition must be examined by a three-judge panel, probably next week.
Gatti, who also has a child in the United States from a previous relationship, and Rodrigues had a rocky marriage and argued frequently, according to his friends. The ex-fighter was also said to have had difficulty adjusting to life after boxing.
Longtime friend Victor Salvatore, a former Canadian lightweight champion, said that Gatti “loved the kid, and if it wasn‘t for the kid, he wouldn‘t be with her, after all the problems they had.“
“Anyone who says he committed suicide doesn‘t know him,“ said Jeremy Filosa, Gatti‘s friend since childhood. “He just loved to live.“
Gatti, who grew up fighting at the Olympic boxing gym in Montreal, moved with his brother to New Jersey to turn pro in 1991. In 1995, he beat Tracy Patterson to win the IBF super-featherweight title.
His career included losses to two of the biggest names in the sport, Mayweather and Oscar de la Hoya, and a long list of bloody brawls that thrilled fans. His bouts were named fight of the year four times.
His last bout was a loss in 2007 to Alfonzo Gomez.
Montreal promoter Yvon Michel said Gatti considered a return to the ring a year ago, but was no longer up for the gruelling training regime.