x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Fellowship with ring

Arturo Gatti seems to have been a man who craved conflict. He was clearly reluctant to give up the fight game.

Having retired in 2006, Arturo Gatti attempted a comeback in 2007, only to suffer a seventh-round knock-out at the hands of Alfonso Gomez, prompting a second retirement.
Having retired in 2006, Arturo Gatti attempted a comeback in 2007, only to suffer a seventh-round knock-out at the hands of Alfonso Gomez, prompting a second retirement.

Joe Louis, possibly the best fighter to pull on a pair of gloves, was also blessed with a neat turn of phrase when talking about his sport. "He can run, but he can't hide," were his words when a reporter asked him how he planned to deal with the speed of his opponent Billy Conn in a 1941 title fight. "Everyone has a plan, till they've been hit," was another great response from Louis, of some hopeful about to step into the ring with him.

It might have been Jim Braddock, who soon discovered that being hit by Louis tended to drive other thoughts from your mind. "It is like someone jammed an electric light bulb in your face and busted it," said Braddock. "I thought half my head was blowed off." Interestingly, both famous Louis quotes could be applied not just to life in the boxing ring, but what happens when it is time for a fighter to hang up gloves and boots and face the outside world.

Most boxers have a plan, all right, but unfortunately that plan often starts with the words, "Just one more fight?" The lure of this most brutal, all consuming, sport is just too much for many fighters to resist. In truth, most boxers at the end of their career put themselves through at least one fight too many. And, sadly, if they can find a freak show somewhere prepared to put up the money, that can lead to another, and then another.

In a sport so personal, so wedded to machismo, it must be desperately difficult for a boxer to admit he no longer has the strength or speed of reactions to match another man in the ring. One boxer who had to face that dilemma was former junior welterweight champion Arturo Gatti, known as Thunder because of his blood-and-guts style. In retirement, he took work as an estate agent in his adopted homeland of Canada, but sadly we will never know how the man - described as "a true warrior" by Floyd Mayweather Junior - might have adapted to the relatively bloodless world of property, because Gatti was found dead, at 37, in a hotel room in Brazil. It would be wrong to speculate on the details of the former champion's death but, without wishing to dabble too deeply in amateur psychology, Gatti seems to have been a man who craved conflict.

He was clearly reluctant to give up the fight game. Having retired in 2006, he attempted a comeback in 2007, only to suffer a seventh-round knock-out at the hands of Alfonso Gomez, prompting a second retirement; but then in Sept 2008 reports emerged that he was considering another comeback. It is a familiar story, which rarely ends well apart from in Rocky movies. As for Gatti's personal life, it is an understatement to describe his relationship with his Brazilian wife Amanda Rodrigues as stormy. In March this year Gatti was charged with assaulting her, and she is now being held in connection with his death.

It is a terribly tragic end for a boxer who never short changed those who paid to see him fight, nor his friends, according to those who knew him well. In the world of boxing, however, his story is one that shocks rather than surprises. A messy private life more or less comes with the territory. When Louis said - and he should know - "You can run, but you can't hide," he could have been talking about real life.

It is something of a tradition in the UK to resent those teams who have the financial resources to buy up the best players, but that does not seem to be the case with Manchester City. City's frequently shambolic past, and the good humour and loyalty of their supporters, have earned them the affection of the football-loving public in Britain. When City slipped into the third tier of English football, they still commanded crowds of 35,000, whereas when Chelsea slipped down to the second division, their fans largely deserted them. Other fans respect that, so City's bid to break into the Premier League big four will find support even outside the confines of Manchester.

Rumours of David Beckham's imminent return to the Premier League have not been stilled by his return for another season to the LA Galaxy, and his stated desire to return to Milan in 2010. Received wisdom is that Beckham needs a Premier League home to further his chances of playing a significant part in England's 2010 World Cup campaign. My view is that none of the top teams would be interested in Becks, and if Capello plans to use him in anything more than a cameo role, he is not half the manager we think he is.

mkelner@thenational.ae