The White Manna diner is an historic landmark in Jersey City that dates back to 1939.
As well as selling approximately 3,000 hamburgers a week and claiming to be the original home of the ‘slider’, the White Manna is where Arturo Gatti would eat every day as he began his unlikely journey to the Boxing Hall of Fame.
Born in Italy and raised in Canada, Gatti was a popular fighter known as ‘Thunder’, but his life had a tragic ending
The White Manna diner where Gatti frequented as a youngster
He had moved south from Montreal to New Jersey as a teenager – accompanied by just a plastic bag containing a few clothes and no money, but a dream.
By the time Gatti called time on his boxing career in 2007, his reputation in the art of pugilism was forged in stone.
Fans need only look at his nicknames to see what kind of fighter he was.
‘Thunder’, ‘Blood and Guts Warrior’ and ‘The Human Highlight Reel’ were all monikers bestowed upon a man who transcended his sport to become a legend.
A world champion in two weight classes and a recipient of The Ring Magazine’s ‘Fight of the Year’ award on four separate occasions, Gatti was renowned for being a power puncher with an iron chin.
Yet his tragic passing in a hotel in Brazil 11 years ago remains one of boxing’s saddest tales.
Gatti’s boxing career began in the early 90s and ended in 2007
Gatti was born in Cassino in Italy, but raised in Montreal, and he never forgot his Canadian roots.
After training to represent Canada at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, a year out from the Games – aged just 19 – he decided to instead pursue a career in the paid ranks.
Gatti trained in the Catskill Mountains in New York during his early career and grew friendly with Mike Tyson, who admired him and spoke movingly about him upon his untimely passing.
His fighting style always made for entertaining brawls; although Gatti could box, his preference to stand and trade made him an instant fan favourite.
During a scheduled eight-round fight against Leon Bostic up at the Catskills, he made a real war out of what should have been a comfortable 15th professional win.
Gatti’s manager Pat Lynch told HBO Sports: “After the Bostic fight we’re walking into the dressing room, and there’s [veteran trainer/cutman] Al Gavin.
“And he’s got his hands spread by his crotch, and he goes, ‘This f****** kid’s got ’em this big. I’ve never seen a bigger set of balls on a person in my life.’ That was the fight that told us what kind of heart Arturo had.”
Gatti was a regular on the front cover of the popular Ring Magazine
Despite being a super-featherweight at this stage, Gatti had drawing power with fans which HBO had not seen from such a light fighter at this point.
His 1996 defence of the IBF crown was meant to be an ‘easy’ fight against Wilson Rodriguez, a 30-year-old Dominican journeyman who was not renowned as being a puncher.
Yet they say it is the punch you don’t see coming which stings the most. Rodriguez caused an insane amount of swelling on Gatti’s left cheekbone inside the first round and dropped him in the second.
The doctor threatened to call the fight as his right eye also began to swell and, on the verge of virtual blindness, Gatti’s cornerman allegedly tapped the back of his man’s neck to help him pass the exam when asked how many fingers were being held up in front of him.
Larry Merchant asked on commentary ‘Can you believe this kid?’ as Gatti responded by simply walking through even more punishment to drop Rodriguez in the fifth, before finishing the job in the sixth.
He would also win in similarly perilous conditions against Gabriel Ruelas just four fights later, when the Canadian found himself cut, wobbled and with the troublesome right eye closing again.
Gatti stopped Ruelas with a jaw-dropping left hook in the fifth, moments after Roy Jones Jr had exclaimed ‘All-out war!’ on commentary duty.
The legend of Gatti was starting to flourish.
Gatti never knew when he was beaten and boxing fans loved him for it
“Not everyone gets to the Hall of Fame simply because of the greatness of their numbers,” Merchant told The Ring when Gatti was posthumously entered into the Hall of Fame in 2012.
“Some get there because they have made fans and kept fans and that has its own value. Boxing is not like other sports in a lot of ways and that’s one of them.
“It’s always been easier to be a champion in boxing than to be a star. Not everyone has the personality or the body language to do it. Gatti had ‘IT’.”
But it is Gatti’s 30 rounds with journeyman Micky Ward which will forever be remembered by fans in what was one of the greatest rivalries in sporting history.
The New York Yankees have the Red Sox, Rangers have Celtic and Muhammad Ali had Joe Frazier – rivalries which surpassed sport.
The Ward-Gatti trilogy is remembered as being not just one of the most engrossing spectacles ever seen inside of the ring, but also an example of the lengths a human being can and will go to in order to win.
Gatti and Ward enjoyed a thrilling rivalry with their styles making for a classic match-up that spanned three fights
There were no belts, no prizes or undefeated records to protect when they first met in 2002.
Within five rounds, both men were badly cut and hurt and Ward’s brother told him in the eighth he would not let him become ‘a punch bag’. Then came the ninth – a round in boxing history which will be spoken about for decades.
From his commentary position, the legendary trainer Emmanuel Steward cried out: “You know, you dream of fights like this, but very seldom do they live up to the expectation. This is even more than you can dream of.”
After being dropped with one of the most violent body punches, Gatti was out on his feet but went the distance.
The bell sounded amidst the din at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut and the two men shared a moment of respect.
A wild fight full of heart and drama ended with Ward taking a majority decision.
An immediate rematch was made later in 2002 with Gatti this time the victor in another all-out war.
“I used to wonder what would happen if I fought my twin. Now I know,” said Gatti after their second showdown.
In the summer of 2003, they met for a third time in what would also be given ‘Fight of the Year’ status. Again it went the distance and again Gatti triumphed – despite suffering a broken hand. His warrior nickname was justified again.
Ward and Gatti became friends and ‘Irish’ later worked in his old rival’s corner
Two years after a chastening defeat to Floyd Mayweather Jr in 2005, Gatti retired from the sport and returned to Montreal to work as a real estate agent.
Yet his heroic career in the ring did not reciprocate itself in real life.
Tragically, the 37-year-old was found dead in a hotel room in his wife’s hometown in Brazil in 2009.
Although Brazilian authorities initially ruled it a homicide, it was then declared a suicide.
The Canadian authorities duly launched their own investigation, yet the cause of death and the autopsy results remain shrouded in mystery and controversy.
No formal charges have ever been brought against anyone over Gatti’s death.
Gatti’s life had a tragic ending having thrilled boxing fans for years
Mario Costa owns the White Manna diner in Jersey City and remembers the teenage boy who moved south of the border to pursue his dream.
The excerpt from his eulogy at Gatti’s memorial service left many in attendance in floods of tears.
“He arrived in Jersey City with a plastic bag and some clothes and no money, a big dream, a big heart and a big smile,” she said.
“The dream was so big the money didn’t matter.
“Probably the happiest time of his life. Well champ you are in Paradise now. No more pain. No more troubles. No more fights.
“I know you are with your father. He will always have your back. Champ, you will forever always be in my heart and in my prayers. I love you and rest in peace.”
GATTI'S BIGGEST FIGHTS
While maybe not the best boxer in the world, fans paid to see 'Thunder' Gatti: The Warrior
- December 1995 – wins IBF super-featherweight title against Tracy Harris Paterson
- March 2001 – knocked out by Oscar de la Hoya
- May 2002 – loses on points to Boston’s Micky Ward in a brutal fight
- June 2003 – after victory in the Ward rematch, Gatti wins the rubber match on points despite breaking hand
- January 2004 – wins WBC welterweight title with victory over Gianluca Branco
- June 2005 – Stopped by Floyd Mayweather in sixth round
- July 2006 – beaten by Carlos Baldomir, retires a year later
Mike Tyson, the legendary former heavyweight world champion, wrote a message too which was read out at his funeral.
“I met Arturo when he was nine years old,” it read. “He was in the Catskills with the Hilton brothers. Matthew Hilton became junior middleweight champion of the world.
“We never saw Arturo coming, we were always going to his brother’s (Joe) fights in New Jersey.
“We never knew Arturo would become such a great fighter. I was always happy to see his success, to see him walk in the gym as a boy and become a great champion.
“I am happy to be a part of his short, exciting life. May God be with you my young friend.”
It wasn’t just Tyson who admired Gatti. He was loved by millions for his never-say-die attitude and determination to fight.
Rather than commiserate his death, those who knew him best would rather celebrate his life.
Ward threw a left hook at Gatti’s coffin at the service. His great friend and rival said the punch was his way of lovingly saying ‘I got you last’.