ATLANTIC CITY - Maybe, given his full-throttle style and outgoing personality, Arturo Gatti would have been easily marketable and hugely popular in whichever city he and his handlers chose to make his base of operations.
Like, for instance, Gatti's old hometown of Montreal?
"Yeah, probably so," said Main Events president Kathy Duva, whose company promoted Gatti's bouts throughout his 17-year professional boxing career. "Arturo was such an exciting fighter, I think he would have clicked anywhere if he had stayed mainly in one place."
That notion, of course, is purely speculative. What is indisputable is that Gatti, who was ruled to have committed suicide on July 11 in Brazil at the age of 37, came to be as identifiable with Atlantic City as the diving horses at the Steel Pier. But they say all good things must come to an end and Gatti's seemingly bottomless well for dispensing and absorbing punishment finally ran dry on July 14, 2007, the night he was brutally stopped in seven rounds in Boardwalk Hall by a competent but hardly exceptional fighter, Alfonso Gomez. A few years earlier, Gomez could not have hoped to hang long with the Gatti who marched to hell and back against such quality opponents as Wilson Rodriguez, Gabriel Ruelas, Angel Manfredy, Ivan Robinson (twice) and Micky Ward (three times).
It was as if Elvis really had left the building, and this time he would not be returning.
The sudden, shocking end to Gatti's life overshadows the boxing aspect of that life, but then the person and the fighter always were so intertwined as to be inseparable. Most people are not and should not be defined solely on the basis of what they do, but Arturo "Thunder" Gatti might have been the exception. He was a fighter's fighter, and the fans who came to love him during his 23 ring appearances in Atlantic City - the last nine of which were in Boardwalk Hall, where he was viewed almost as an icon - adored him because he never gave them less than his very best effort.
"He was without question this town's favorite fighter," said Harrah's Entertainment consultant Ken Condon, who arranged for Gatti to keep returning to Boardwalk Hall. "He would come back to the hotel and be in the lobby, signing autographs and posing for pictures, no matter what the outcome of his fight was. And every one of his fights was tremendously exciting.
"When his career got that resurgence after the first Micky Ward fight [in Uncasville, Conn.], as soon as he stepped back into the big arena in Atlantic City the fan base was there. He was an overnight success story again, only much more so."
Larry Hazzard Sr., the former head of the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board, was in the house for each of Gatti's 23 Atlantic City bouts. He said it isn't difficult to understand why the kid with the big heart and high pain threshold connected with spectators.
"Fans in Atlantic City love the blue-collar, blood-and-guts fighters, guys who'd give you everything they had," Hazzard, now an official with the IBF, said from his office in East Orange, N.J. "For years we had a lot of those guys fighting there. Then it was like they were all gone, except for Gatti. His fights were huge because it was like he was the last of his kind."
Not even Pat Lynch, Gatti's manager, could have foreseen the major uptick in the fighter's popularity.
"His fan base started in Atlantic City with the smaller club shows, but it wasn't until the second Ward fight that things took off like a skyrocket," Lynch said. "It got to a point where every Gatti fight in Boardwalk Hall was an event. People didn't even care who the opponent was. It was almost as if he had this cultlike following."
All that remains is for Gatti to find some peace in death. News of the Brazilian police ruling that Gatti's death was a suicide, and wife Amanda Rodrigues' release from prison, both came July 31, the same day as a memorial service for the fighter in Jersey City, N.J. *