At the time I write this article, 17 years and 1 month have passed since "Irish" Micky Ward and Arturo "Thunder" Gatti first crossed swords in a battle that epitomizes all that makes the sport so compulsive.
On May 18th 2002 at The Mohegan Sun Casino, in Uncasville, Connecticut, these two warriors met in a fight that HBO's commentators Larry Merchant and Jim Lampley described beforehand as a possible fight of the year candidate. Little did they know what the next 39 minutes would bring.
Gatti's style had changed from boxer/fighter to slugger a few times in both his amateur and professional careers, but since he joined up with former world champion Buddy McGirt as trainer, the overriding changes were to boxing behind the jab and using Gatti's underrated footwork.
The early rounds were close, but Gatti's better foot speed and boxing won him the early going with most fans, but Ward still had his moments and forced the Canadian to stand and fight at times. Gatti had success when he tried to claim the ring centre but it also gave ward the opportunity to land his heavy hooks which were sapping his opponent's energy.
A pivotal moment came in the fourth round when Ward went down from a low left hook and referee Frank Cappuccino took a point away. When the round resumed, Gatti seemed unable to stay away from Ward's relentless pressure and was forced to stand and trade. Gatti tried to get back to his boxing in the 5th round but Ward walked his man down and landed flurries of heavy hooks.
The 6th saw Gatti win the round with more movement, but still, he had to ship some heavy shots from the New England native.
Once again in the 7th, Gatti re-established his dominance by circling his more static opponent and landing long jabs and right hands. During the interval before the beginning of the 8th round cornerman and Brother, Dick Eckland told Ward "Don't be a punchbag, don't take so many punches", a clear indication that he believed that they were behind in the fight.
And it was in the 8th that things started to improve for"˜Irish" Micky. After 2 minutes were Gatti looked to carry on with his better boxing, Ward suddenly started to land damaging shots on Gatti who slowed down to the point where it was he who resembled a punchbag. The sudden change in the fight was electrifying, it was a tribute to Gatti's warrior temperament that he saw the round out on his feet, such was the punishment he had to absorb.
Many, many boxing writers, fans, and so-called experts consider the 9th round as one of, if not the greatest round of boxing ever fought. It started with Gatti being felled by a Ward flurry that ended with his trademark left hook to the body after only 15 seconds. Ward's follow up attack was relentless, and Gatti was close to going over again, but somehow he saw out the storm and came back to pummel ward on the ropes, only for the tide to turn yet again and the Irishman unmercifully beat the Canadian with shots that would have knocked out lesser fighters.
As the "Round of the century" ended, Ward looked like the only winner. He may have still been a round down on the scorecards, but Gatti looked like he might be stopped with the next left hook from Ward.
As both came out, Ward held his arm aloft, believing that the fight was over, only for referee Cappuccino to shout "No, no, fight ain't over, last round". As the round finally got underway 30 seconds had already elapsed and it was Gatti who seemed to have the most left in the tank. He boxed at arm's length and rarely was troubled by Ward who had exhausted himself trying to end the fight in that amazing 9th round. It was a fitting end to a great fight when both fighters stood toe to toe in the last minute.
Opinions were divided as with any great fight that goes to the scorecards. The majority decision was popular with most, as it was Ward who came from behind to alter the course of the fight in the 8th and 9th rounds. Truth is, most fans wouldn't have disagreed too much whoever got the decision.
The fight was so good that they did it again a further two times, all brilliant fights, but for me, never quite living up to the original.
The sad news that Arturo Gatti died (aged 37-years-old) on July 11th 2009 only makes revisiting this amazing fight more poignant. HBO round scorer Harold Lederman also left us this year aged 79-years-old, Harold scored the fight a draw.
Gatti was a fan favourite, he gave everything he had in every fight, but for me, his first war with "Irish" Micky Ward will live on as his finest moment inside a ring.