Arturo Gatti vs. Micky Ward I: May 18, 2002
I think the first fight of the trilogy was the best, and it deserves a place among the handful of greatest boxing matches in the history of the sport. It was stunning the extent to which both Gatti and Ward shook off punishment, and by the end I agreed with HBO commentator Larry Merchant, who said, "I am humbled by watching these two guys."
Ward won a very close majority decision, and it's a decision I think he earned, even though I also think a 94-94 draw, as judge Frank Lombardi scored it, is completely reasonable. I had it 95-93 for Ward, which is how judge Steve Weisfeld saw it. The hardest round to score was the ninth, a round in which Ward battered Gatti so badly that HBO announcer Jim Lampley shouted at referee Frank Cappuccino to stop the fight. Gatti somehow stayed on his feet, giving us one more round of war.
It must be said, for as brilliant a display of boxing as Gatti and Ward gave us in that first fight, referee Frank Cappuccino did an absolutely horrible job. I don't want to list everything he did wrong, but I'll mention a few: Cappuccino didn't call time after Gatti landed a low blow in the fourth round, allowing time to expire and costing Ward the opportunity to get the five minutes to recover that he deserved. He awkwardly got into the boxers' way a couple of times, and at the end of the fifth he didn't separate them when the bell rang. In the seventh round, when Ward and Gatti clinched, Cappuccino failed to separate them, and then after they separated themselves, he yelled, "That's what I want to see." Uh, Frank? If you wanted to see them separate, why didn't you do it yourself?
Cappuccino aside, this was just about the perfect boxing match. It blew me away at the time, and it was a thrill to watch it again today.