Even if you think the Micky Ward-Arturo Gatti rivalry was overrated; even if you think the movie “The Fighter” was all that needed to be said about Ward’s unlikely career breakthrough; you will not consider HBO’s Gatti-Ward retrospective that premieres Saturday overkill.
There are two strong pegs, as we say in the news biz, that warrant “Legendary Nights,” the first being that the trilogy has reached its 10th anniversary. The more salient is that Gatti, who died under mysterious, sordid circumstances in 2009, was inducted into boxing’s hall of fame last summer in Canastota, N.Y., and Ward was there to honor his cosmic twin in boxing history.
There’s a great cast of boxing characters in this retrospective, beginning with promoter Kathy Duva of Main Events, whose explanation of how the first fight came to be. The first fight was the one great fight among the three because the underdog Ward won and because the two inflicted so much punishment on one another that the rivalry took on significance.
Which is why HBO blow-by-blow announcer Jim Lampley begins to cry as he describes what made the first fight so beautiful. It’s not inappropriate at all.
It's the beauty, the artistic merit, that made the rivalry what Duva (the widow of the late promoter Dan Duva and daughter-in-law of trainer Lou Duva) describes as “much greater than the sum of its parts. The two of them together created history. Neither one could have done it by himself. But together, they became iconic.”
And it is about the two of them. Ward, who has spent most of his life in a lower-middle-class Boston-area milieu has acquired a sort of blue-collar grace that is more charming in this documentary even than actor Mark Wahlberg evoked portraying Ward in “The Fighter.” And Gatti is alive again, sort of the way John Lennon came back to life in the Beatles’ “Anthology.”
Wahlberg narrates the documentary, and Gatti’s manager Pat Lynch and trainer Buddy McGirt, the great boxing writer Ron Borges, promoter Lou DiBella, and referee Frank Capuccino are among those adding perspective. Ward’s wife, Charlene, is eloquent recalling events of a decade ago and beyond.
But it’s the Canastota weekend -- which I’ve never attended -- that tugged my heartstrings. When you’re involved in the world of pro boxing, even as peripherally as I am, you’re often said to be “in boxing,” or perhaps you’ve been “out of boxing” as I was during about seven years that included the 18-month span in which the Ward-Gatti fights took place. It’s a very inclusive world.
If you want to know what it feels like to be “in boxing,” I’ve never seen anything that transports you there the way the Canastota scenes transport the viewer in “Legendary Nights.”
Except for HBO’s remembrance of Sonny Liston in the mid-1990s, “Legendary Nights: is arguably the best boxing documentary I’ve ever seen.