Book Review: “Intimate Warfare: The True Story of the Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward Boxing Trilogy”

By Adam Berlin on January 2, 2017
Book Review: “Intimate Warfare: The True Story of the Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward Boxing Trilogy”
“Intimate Warfare” reveals, dissects, and ultimately elevates Ward and Gatti. (Mike Orduña)

Like the protagonists in Greek tragedies, Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward looked into each other’s eyes. Then they looked into the abyss…

Intimate Warfare by Dennis Taylor and John J. Raspanti chronicles one of boxing’s historic trilogies, the three-fight drama that starred Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward. In a short thirteen-month period, between May 2002 and June 2003, two professional fighters displayed everything that’s brutal and beautiful about boxing, the core of a sport that’s more than sport. The book’s title not only frames the narrative but provides its thematic foundation: Intimate because after thirty rounds Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward knew each other so well they could identify each other’s breath and sweat and spit; Warfare because after three violent acts Ward and Gatti could recognize each other’s brave hearts. Writers Taylor and Raspanti tell the true story of the Gatti/Ward trilogy with the insight of witnesses who know boxing.

Intimate Warfare’s early chapters alternate between Ward and Gatti, filling in the backstories of these two very different men. Micky Ward came from a large, rough-edged family. Quieter than his siblings, Ward still carried a big stick when he had to, earning his street cred in the bars of Lowell, “a depressed, blue-collar Boston suburb whose streets were filthy with drug dealers, drunks, thugs and prostitutes.” Micky followed older brother Dicky into the gym (Dicky’s hard life was made Hollywood-famous by Christian Bale in The Fighter), and while Micky may not have had the natural talent of his older sibling, he surpassed Dicky in discipline, working hard, pushing through pain (including broken bones and a construction accident befitting “a villain who loses a fight with James Bond”), and building a respectable career well before he met Arturo Gatti.

Gatti’s backstory was less hard-knocks.  Born in Italy, raised in Montreal, Arturo was a natural athlete who played many sports and boxed, mainly, for the joy of competition. When his father died in a work accident and the family moved to Jersey City, Arturo started boxing seriously. Like Ward, he followed his older brother into the fight game. Unlike Ward, Gatti was a genuine, natural talent, whose work ethic sometimes waned. Perhaps Gatti’s greatest attribute was his super-human grit. Taylor and Raspanti put us ringside as they recall a brutal fourth round between Gatti and former super-featherweight champ Gabriel Ruelas:

…Ruelas hurt the champion badly and reeled off a string of 17 unanswered punches, beginning with a mammoth left uppercut with less than a minute left, followed immediately by a hard right to Gatti’s beltline. How Gatti made it to the bell that round became part of his enduring lore. He not only persevered, but also inexplicably landed a few big shots of his own just before the end of the round.

Gatti’s trademark resilience was the reason he co-starred in a total of four The Ring “Fights of the Year.”

Ward’s rise through the ranks was rougher than Gatti’s. He didn’t win the big belts. He didn’t make the big money. But like the workhorse he was, Micky kept exceeding expectations. Perhaps his personality was best personified by his signature punch, a left hook to the body (aimed at the liver) that put many men down. Body blows are not the stuff of Hollywood, which prefers eye-catching head shots that send dramatic sweat-sprays into the lights. But Ward got the job done, lunch-pail in hand. In the Gatti/Ward duo, Arturo was the leading man. His good looks, million-dollar smile, and all-out style, made more cinematic by his ability to take unnatural punishment and come back from adversity, often with a spectacular KO, made his rise quicker, easier, more lucrative.

As the book progresses, Taylor and Raspanti replace their wide lens with a narrow lens, zooming in on each fighter’s boxing career, detailing their fights with precision. And as the famous fight trilogy approaches, the road that brings Gatti and Ward together seems to become increasingly inevitable, as if this match-up were fated, orchestrated by the boxing deities, not mortal (and mortally-flawed) promoters. By the time we get to the first Gatti/Ward fight, that is, by the time Taylor and Raspanti bring us into the ring at the Mohegan Sun Casino, we know these two opponents very well. By the time the final bell sounds for the last round of their third fight in Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall, we know them even better.

Taylor and Raspanti’s collaboration seems seamless because the voice of this book, itself intimate, is unified and entertaining and honest. While the two writers detail the most glorious moments in each fighter’s career, Taylor and Raspanti are at their best when riffing on boxing’s harder truths. Here they synopsize the consequential aftermath of a Ward losing streak:

He was on a four-fight skid—albeit against strong opponents—and his phone no longer was ringing. Any cache he once had among promoters and matchmakers had evaporated into a fog of mediocrity. Fighters turn professional with dreams of someday cashing in on their hard work. Promoters enter the sport with the same idea—cashing in on the boxer’s hard work. If that boxer no longer has audience appeal, he might as well be a dirty Kleenex.

And here they describe the almost-inevitable allure for retired, aging fighters to resurrect their careers:

The money and fame evaporate. Those legions of “friends” dwindle.  The bright light grows dim. Life becomes bleak and cold when the once-glaring spotlight begins to flicker. Depression often sets in. And, inevitably, a predictable thing happens: Old injuries begin to feel better. A tired body becomes rested. The bills stack up, and the hunger returns. And the fighter begins to believe—almost always erroneously—that he’s got two or three good fights left in his aging body and that some unworthy young chump is wearing his old championship belt.

To his credit, once Ward retired, a retirement that began when the final bell of the final fight with Gatti tolled, Ward stayed retired. Gatti, almost seven years Ward’s junior, had more fight left in him, and another successful title run, but when it came time for The Human Highlight Reel, as Gatti was known, to hang up the gloves, it was not so easy. His final fight against mediocre Alfonso Gomez, a fight Gatti lost by TKO, showed how far Thunder Gatti had fallen. And the subsequent nights of hard drinking and hard partying, which no doubt offered Arturo beer-muscled glimpses of his former mighty self, highlighted the difficulties of retirement from an all-consuming vocation that runs out “when most folks are hitting their professional stride.”

I was fortunate enough to see, live, the third fight of the Gatti/Ward trilogy. And I was fortunate enough to see, also live, Gatti’s first title-winning fight with Tracy Harris Patterson in Madison Square Garden. And I even saw Gatti fight, live, in only his eleventh pro bout, a first-round knockout victory that took place in a Ramada Hotel ballroom in Manhattan. Despite the over-matched opponent he beat, and despite the amateurish venue, I remember admiring the kid with the quick hands and quick feet who looked like he could punch. He looked like a contender. He became a champion. If, by some sleight of time, I’d been able to read Intimate Warfare before I saw my own personal trilogy of Gatti fights, my appreciation of a rising Gatti, and of the epic third installment of the Gatti/Ward war, would have been more layered, more complete, and so more fulfilling. That marks Intimate Warfare as the real deal.

Greek tragedies start with a prologue, which sets up the play about to follow. The first line in this book’s prologue reads, “The end. Such a sad place for a story to begin.” The end for Arturo Gatti was indeed sad—found dead after a fight with his wife, the bloody, ripped strap of her purse a few feet from his body, Gatti’s death was officially ruled a suicide, a ruling few believe. For Ward, the sad end is less dramatic. He suffered the slings and arrows that come with a life in the ring. But like the protagonists in Greek tragedies, which belong to heroes, Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward achieved heroic status and solidified their names in boxing lore through three fights. They looked into each other’s eyes. Then they looked into the abyss. And they kept fighting. Money. Fame. That’s part of boxing’s allure, and part of what drives men to lace up the gloves. But the biggest draw for that small group of special men who dare enter the ring and fight, completely, is the chance to touch immortality. In Intimate Warfare, Dennis Taylor and John J. Raspanti reveal, dissect, and ultimately elevate Micky Ward and Arturo Gatti, two men who became more than men when they danced together.

Adam Berlin is the author of four novels, most recently the boxing novel Both Members of the Club (Texas Review Press/winner of the Clay Reynolds Novella Prize). He teaches writing at John Jay College/CUNY.  For more, please visit adamberlin.com.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Fights of the Decade: Ward vs. Gatti I (HBO Boxing)



Arturo Gatti vs Micky Ward II [Full Fight]



Fights of the Decade: Gatti vs. Ward III (HBO Boxing)



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  1. sweetviolenturge 05:38pm, 01/24/2017

    GABOS - Ward is from LOWELL, MA, not Ludlow.

  2. andrew 04:11pm, 01/07/2017

    Body abuse by second level fighters. Arturo is dead and Mickey’s brain is getting there

  3. GABOS 05:27pm, 01/02/2017

    Made me want to do a search for the town of Ludlow, Mass., and I do mean town. Place only has about 20 large and is whiter than Larry Bird.  The images were even more Mayberry than Mayberry. hehe. How much “skreet cred” could one aquire on the mean streets of Ludlow?

  4. Lucas McCain 02:42pm, 01/02/2017

    On an HBO documentary about the trilogy, Jim Lampley tried to express what watching these bouts meant to him, and he choked up, his eyes welling with tears.  For a guy who is usually too suave to convince, it was a moving tribute to what he, and we all, saw.

  5. Moon-man 07:31am, 01/02/2017

    Most overrated rivalry in sports: Yankees vs. Red Sox.

    Most underrated rivalry in sports: Alydar vs. Affirmed

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