TORONTO, Canada — Former world champion Arturo Gatti became a boxing legend with what often looked like fights to the death.
Born in Italy, raised in Montreal, and trained in New Jersey, Gatti turned fights into blood-stained epic dramas that are part of boxing lore. He won three world championship titles and millions in prize money. He retired in 2007 after 40 wins, 9 losses and 31 knockouts. His fans called him Thunder.
Two years later, at age 37, he was found dead on the floor of a Brazilian hotel room.
Now, a battle as ferocious as one of Gatti’s bouts is being fought over his dead body.
Brazilian authorities initially arrested his wife, a former Brazilian stripper named Amanda Rodrigues, on suspicion of murder. They released her three weeks later, concluding that Gatti committed suicide.
Gatti’s mother and brother are now in a Montreal courtroom fighting a will that leaves Gatti’s 25-year-old widow his $6 million estate. At the same time, forensic experts hired by Gatti’s former manager concluded the boxer was murdered. And they suspect Rodrigues of the crime.
For the past two weeks, the action has been focused on the Montreal courtroom where Gatti’s tumultuous marriage has been described by his wife and friends.
Gatti fought hard and partied harder. His drinking, drug-taking, and bar brawls were almost as famous as his professional bouts. He married Rodrigues in 2007. They had a son, Arturo Jr. Gatti also had a 5-year-old daughter from a previous relationship.
Rodrigues signed a prenuptial agreement stating she would receive nothing — not even alimony — if she divorced Gatti. Months later, Gatti made a show in his lawyer’s office of tearing up a copy of the pre-nup.
“I thought it was beautiful for him to do something like that,” Rodrigues told the court. She insisted she had no idea the original existed or that the pre-nup was still in force.
The couple fought constantly, according to Gatti’s close friend and business partner, Antonio Rizzo. He testified being at Gatti’s Montreal condo one night when a naked Rodrigues whacked the boxer on the head with a broom before smashing crystal objects on the floor and then screamed at him to pick up the pieces.
Rizzo then quoted Rodrigues telling Gatti: “You're a loser. The only thing you're good at is bleeding. Your mother’s a whore, your sisters are prostitutes.”
For her part, Rodrigues described Gatti as often wasted on alcohol and drugs. In 2009, she filed a restraining order against him.
Rizzo said Gatti complained to him in March 2009 that Rodrigues was pressuring him to change his will, which left his fortune to his mother and daughter. He said Gatti later told him he wanted a divorce.
Yet three weeks before his death, Gatti signed a new will that left everything to Rodrigues. The couple then flew to Brazil for what Rodrigues described as their “second honeymoon.”
They were drinking at a bar in the Brazilian resort town of Porto de Galinhas when Rodrigues said she wanted to go back to the hotel.
“He didn't want to go home and he didn't want me to go home,” she testified. “He hit me, and I fell.”
She rushed back to the hotel. She said police later told her that Gatti got into a brawl with people who saw him hit Rodrigues — a version of events confirmed by eyewitnesses who spoke to the CBC’s Fifth Estate news program.
She described seeing a bleeding Gatti eventually return to the hotel room. The Montreal judge stopped further questioning about that fateful night. The trial is about Gatti’s will, the judge ruled, not his death.
But Rodrigues told the CBC that she and her son went to sleep in the hotel room’s upper floor. She says she found Gatti dead under the staircase the next morning. Brazilian police initially accused her of strangling Gatti with her purse strap while he was passed out drunk. Later, they concluded Gatti hanged himself from the staircase with the strap.
Rodrigues has said Gatti was distraught at the thought she might leave him.
From Canada: A deadly export
Gatti’s family insists that a ring warrior like Gatti doesn’t suddenly decide he can’t take life anymore. But court documents uncovered by the CBC, filed in an unrelated 2006 case, quote a woman Gatti was living with at the time saying he had “attempted suicide by overdosing on cocaine, alcohol and prescription drugs” the year before.
Forensic experts hired by Gatti’s former manager, Pat Lynch, tell a different story in a 300-page report. They argue the purse strap was too short to be used for hanging, and it couldn’t support Gatti’s weight for more than a few seconds.
“This was not a suicide hanging, this is a homicide,” forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht told a Sept. 7 press conference in New Jersey.
“If (Rodrigues) was there alone, who committed the homicide?” Paul Ciolino, a Chicago-based investigator hired by Lynch, told the press conference. “He was murdered because he had some dough. It's the oldest motive in the world.”
Brazilian prosecutors have since said they’ll take a second look at the case. Meanwhile, a New Jersey lawyer acting on behalf of Gatti’s 5-year-old daughter has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Rodrigues and obtained a temporary court order freezing Gatti’s estate. And the battle over the boxer’s estate continues in Montreal.
There are more rounds to come in the suicide or murder of Arturo Gatti.