Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Gatti vs. Ward Boxing War Becomes a Movie

There’s all this buzz about an upcoming movie (The Fighter) about retired boxer “Irish” Micky Ward. It wasn’t so long ago that the durable and determined fighter from Lowell, Massachusetts was slugging it out center ring with Arturo Gatti, a fighter who should have retired after his third legendary and bruising battle with Ward. To fight fans, those three meetings were memorable for their ferocity and for their exhibitions of courage under fire. Some may regard it as hyperbole when one hears a mere boxing match described as a “war”. To those who watched, however, the metaphor is fitting inasmuch as it was a war without guns. The movie is simply titled “The Fighter”.

Micky Ward never won any of the major titles, yet many boxing fans think he should have a statue or monument placed somewhere in the New England states much as the Rocky statue still adorns the Philadelphia Art Museum. Ward catapulted into prominence after a tremendous 2001 ring struggle with a highly unusual, highly unorthodox, and yet highly talented fighter variously named Emmanuel Augustus, Emmanuel Burton, Shea Neary, and Antonio Diaz.

That man of four names deserves a movie by himself, yet this one, starring Mark Wahlberg in the title role, is about “Irish” Micky Ward and focuses on his three fights with Arturo Gatti. The film also features co-star Brad Pitt playing Ward’s older brother, a former fighter turned to drugs. The combined memories of the millions of fans who have watched Gatti, Ward, and Emmanuel Burton-Augustus-Neary-Diaz virtually guarantees a large audience for “The Fighter.” Things would have to go horribly wrong for this project to lose money. One expects that Matt Damon may one day kick himself for bowing out of a role in “The Fighter” now played by Brad Pitt.

To say that Mark Wahlberg is taking the role seriously is understatement. For the past year, Wahlberg has been getting up at 4:00 a.m. to train as a fighter trains. He’s following “The Fighter” routine of skipping rope, hitting the speed bag, pounding the heavy bag, hitting the punch mitts, and running during the early morning hours. And as every true fight fan would like it, Wahlberg has a boxing ring set up in his home.

Mark Wahlberg is certain to play a convincing New England working-class tough boy. His role in “The Departed” nearly eclipsed Matt Damon’s in character acting. Like the fighter he will be playing, Wahlberg also grew up on the streets of a blue-collar New England town (Dorchester, Mass.) and was himself a devoted fan of the fighter. Wahlberg’s errant background and youthful scuffles on the mean streets of working class Massachusetts once led to a murder charge which he pleaded down to aggravated assault.

The story of “Irish” Micky Ward is entwined with much of the life in the sturdy New England towns where blue-collar mill workers or fishermen hoist their beers in toasts to their favorite sports figures, but it is nowhere so much entangled as it is with Arturo Gatti, born in Italy, raised in Montreal, and resident of Jersey City, NJ since 1990.

The first Ward-Gatti match was named the “fight of the century by boxing fans and writers. Round nine of that bout was termed “the round of the century,” so fierce was the battle.

The rematch caused Gatti to fight through seven rounds with a broken hand after he dropped Ward in the third. Many fans felt that’s when the fight should have been stopped since Ward went on to take tremendous punishment throughout the remaining rounds.

Though he dropped Gatti hard in round six of Ward-Gatti III, that battle was named “Fight of the Year” by Ring Magazine in 2003. Mickey Ward is clearly the type of fighter who, through heart and determination alone, wins even when he loses. From all indications, Director Darren Aronofsky and stars Mark Wahlberg and Brad Pitt are just as determined to make this a film worthy of the memories fans have of the now retired “Irish” Micky Ward.

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