Most people expected the first fight between Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward to be a good one. This fight, though, exceeded all expectations. The first Gatti-Ward fight, which took place on May 18, 2002, ranks as one of the best action fights in boxing history. It was a matchup between a pair of fighters who were not particularly skilled defensively but who both could take a punch. And neither man possessed one-punch knockout power. The combination of all those elements set the stage for a fight that promised a lot of clean punches landing.
Following the instructions of trainer Buddy McGirt, Gatti began the fight by outboxing Ward. He found repeated success with his jab and began to follow that with two- and three-punch combinations. The pace of the fight though began to shift in Round 3 when Ward began to land left hooks to the body. Round 4 proved pivotal to the final result. Gatti dropped Ward with a low blow and was penalized one point on the scorecards.
The middle rounds saw Gatti attempting to box more, but Ward was stalking him and landing harder punches. The give-and-take increased as the bout approached the incredible ninth round. In that fateful ninth round, Ward dropped Gatti with a left hook to the body. Gatti winced in pain as he listened to the count. He rose and was met immediately with a barrage of punches from Ward. Ward backed Gatti to the ropes and pursued him, launching punches with both hands. It seemed there was no way Gatti would survive the round. Suddenly, with about one minute left in the round, Gatti turned the tables. He began firing one-two combinations. He drilled Ward with straight right hands, now backing up his opponent. The tide would change one more time, and with about 45 seconds left, Ward was back on the attack. The Compubox numbers for Round 9 showed that Gatti had landed 42 of 61 power punches for a 69 percent connect rate, while Ward had landed 60 of 81 for a 73 percent connect rate. It was one of the most incredible rounds in boxing history.
Round 10 was anticlimactic. Gatti again tried outboxing Ward and did so for much of the final frame. In the end, Ward captured a majority decision by the scores of 94-94, 95-93 and 95-93. The bout was named Fight of the Year by Ring magazine and the Boxing Writers Association of America. The two fighters agreed to an immediate rematch.
Arturo Gatti, left, takes Micky Ward down to the mat in the junior welterweight fight in Uncasville, Conn., Saturday, May 18, 2002. Ward won by majority decision.
Arturo Gatti, right, and Micky Ward exchange punches in their junior welterweight fight in Uncasville, Conn., on Saturday, May 18, 2002.
Arturo Gatti, left, takes a right to the face from Micky Ward during their junior welterweight bout Saturday, May 18, 2002, in Uncasville, Conn.
Micky Ward celebrates his win over Arturo Gatti in the junior welterweight fight in Uncasville, Conn., Saturday, May 18, 2002.
HBO's Larry Merchant interviews Arturo Gatti, left, and Micky Ward after their epic junior welterweight fight in Uncasville, Conn., on Saturday, May 18, 2002. Ward won by majority decision.