Arturo Gatti drew a capacity crowd in his final show on Thursday as former fighters filled a northern New Jersey church to pay homage to the fallen boxer.
The crowd was sprinkled with heavily muscled men sporting tattoos and close cropped haircuts that included Academy Award nominated actor Mickey Rourke and former champs Mark Breland, Bobby Czyz and Tracy Patterson. They reflect the nonsense fans drawn to the scrappy, passionate and charismatic Gatti during a 16-year professional career that produced two world championships and numerous fights of the year.
Stories about the irrepressible Gatti, who died in Brazil under mysterious circumstances July 11 at the age of 37, brought more than one tough guy in the crowd to tears.
"Everybody loved Arturo, said Chuck Zito, 56, an actor, bodyguard and former president of the New York City chapter of the Hells Angel motorcycle club. "He thought everybody had as big a heart as he did."
The boxer's family, which buried him in Montreal earlier this month, was notably absent from the memorial Mass, according to organizers. Older brother Joseph Gatti, who lives in nearby Wyckoff, skipped the event, which was held a few hours after Brazilian authorities changed their initial homicide finding to suicide. They also ordered the release of Gatti's wife, Amanda Rodrigues, who initially was suspected of strangling an intoxicated Gatti with her purse strap.
Joe Gatti said that the family may exhume the fighter's body in Canada and conduct their own autopsy.
Gatti manager Pat Lynch said that he was shocked when he heard about the suicide ruling and hopes the Canadian government will get involved.
"I'm not going to rest. We've got a lot of investigation ahead of us," Lynch said.
Gatti was born in Italy, moved to Canada as a child, and lived in northern New Jersey during most of his boxing career.
He moved in with trainer Mario Costa in Jersey City in 1989, when he was 17 near the rough and tumble Route 1 & 9 truck route.
Gatti and his fellow fighters often ate dinner beside grown men in the Ringside Lounge located below Costa's Ringside gym. A banner outside the bar reads "RIP Arturo 'Thunder' Gatti. Ringside Jersey City Loves You."
Skepticism of the Brazilian ruling seemed universal on Thursday among the more than 600 people who attended the memorial Mass for Gatti at St. John the Baptist Church in Jersey City. Matchmaker Carl Moretti remembered Gatti as the kind of person that made boxing industry insiders forget the old axiom about never falling in love with a fighter.
"It's safe to say that every one of us forgot that rule when it came to Arturo Gatti," Moretti said.
The crowd also included boxers Mickey Ward and Ivan Robinson, whose battles with Gatti were recognized as fights of the year by Ring Magazine. Chuck Wepner, who was known as the Bayonne Brawler and inspired the main character in the "Rocky" films, was also present.
Gatti rarely played it safe in the ring, sometimes risking damage to land his punches. His aggressive, offensive-minded style and knockout power made him a hit with fans. But they loved him for his heart, which spurred Gatti back to his feet after numerous knockdowns.
Promoter Kathy Duva recalled walking through a casino with Gatti late in his career after a loss in Atlantic City. He was shocked by the number of people that still wanted to shake his hand. In his mind he was a loser that night, she said.
"He never understood what it was about him that people loved and that's why they loved him," Duva said. "He was everyman, he never got fancy, and he was the quintessential Jersey guy."