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'The Tale of Gatti-Ward' goes beyond the fights

Arturo Gatti throws a right to Micky Ward

Arturo Gatti throws a right to Micky Ward during one of the three fights to two were in. Credit: HBO

There are a million cliches to describe Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward and their three-fight series that captivated the boxing world from 2002 to 2003. To say they are warriors or gladiators just doesn't do them justice.

HBO, however, does.

The network examines the fighters and the fights in its "Legendary Nights" series with the "The Tale of Gatti-Ward" on Saturday night. The Gatti-Ward special immediately follows the Mike Alvarado-Ruslan Provodnikov WBO junior welterweight title fight on HBO at 9:45 p.m. ET.

“2013 marks the 10th anniversary of the third fight of the landmark Gatti vs. Ward trilogy, so now is the ideal moment to revisit this classic rivalry,” HBO Sports president Ken Hershman said.

The opening of "Legendary Nights" is spectacular, if not haunting. The show starts with a long rail shot inside the Canadian cemetery that is Gatti's final resting place. The sequence ends with a tight shot on a beautiful portrait of Gatti by Getty photographer Al Bello. From there, the scene shifts to the rugged environs of Lowell, Mass., hometown of Ward. The story is told largely through Ward.

Volumes of text have been written about the 30 rounds Gatti and Ward spent inside the ring. (Ward won the first fight, Gatti the next two.) But perhaps no finer words have been used to describe their spirit than those chosen by HBO's Aaron Cohen in the opener: "What makes great fighters different is what they leave behind ... the memories of the nights they stepped into the ring and did things with their body and their heart that shouldn't have been possible ... no one who sees them ever forgets nights like those."

Cohen writes those words for narrator Mark Wahlberg, whose movie on Ward, "The Fighter," earned several Oscar nominations.

And while on the subject of words, here are some of the most compelling quotes from the show:

"You don't think that this could actually happen in real life," said Gatti promoter Kathy Duva, describing the first fight.

"I am humbled by watching these two guys take the punishment they are taking," HBO analyst Larry Merchant, on the original call of the first fight.

"Only prize fighters can truly understand what they put themselves through," said Merchant.

"I was proud of him for being that tough, I know how hard it is to go through that," said Ward, recalling the first fight.

"What he endured in the ring with Arturo is not human," Ward's wife, Charlene, said.

"He knocked me out and woke me up in the same round," said Ward, talking about the second fight.

"I didn't win the fight, but more importantly, I made a friend for life," said Ward, after the third fight.

"We started out and it was us against them and when it ended it was just us," Duva said.

"The whole became much greater than the sum of its parts," Duva said.

There is an amazing scene after the third fight, when Ward and Gatti are side-by-side, on gurneys, in an Atlantic City emergency room. Gatti looks over to Ward and the first thing he says is, "Are you OK?"

This special was about great fights, great courage, but in the end, it was about a great friendship.

New York Sports