Unforeseen Sadness: The Grave Summer
By Cliff Rold
Michael Jackson owns my iPod.
Not literally of course but in recent days it’s been all about riding the boogie. On Saturday night, on a boxing card, head scratching ensued when Jackson received more tribute time than former two-division titlist and four-time Fight of the Year participant Arturo Gatti on Showtime. On Sunday, I finally got around to buying some of the tunes stuck in my head for the last couple weeks.
This being a boxing column, Gatti should be the focus and gets his due. So does Jackson. Countless pundits and fans have written their formal eulogies in recent days for the fallen warrior, many of them elegant, all of them personal even if the authors might have tried to avoid the appearance.
Eulogies are a tough business after all. Cliché and experience inform all of the certainty of death and so we sometimes do our best to depersonalize it. The sting of lost loved ones, family and friends, is harsh and internal. It might be ‘good’ to talk about it but often easier to disconnect.
The loss of celebrities is something different.
It is always astounding, the collective outpourings which emanate from the loss of particular celebrities. In recent weeks, during this deadly summer of 2009, such outpourings have touched multiple fields of entertainment and thus every walk of life. Jackson and Gatti have been joined in whatever comes next by Ed Sullivan, Karl Malden, Steve McNair, Farrah Fawcett, and three-division world champion and all-time boxing great Alexis Arguello.
Few who followed their careers actually knew them. The times we got to know them were often the worst. Jackson was iPod resisted for weeks because of mixed feeling about what he might have been as a man, acquitted or not. Sullivan died a somewhat tragic figure, his fortunes leaving him with his health. Gatti’s death, possibly at the hands of his wife, could not avoid echoes of previous domestic abuse allegations.
And yet each has been mourned outside their inner circles, impersonally. Death of the famed is discussed openly among friends and perfect strangers. Unlike the people in our everyday lives, these are people who could be admired not for who they were but for what they did and the feelings they evoked in viewers.
It is perhaps the security of those feelings, as much as the individuals, which die for the observer in cases like these. Ed Sullivan made people laugh. Farrah Fawcett made a lot of young guys stay up until everyone went to sleep. Jackson made us dance.
All, in their own right, made people smile. The smiles are why, even with some of their frailties and failings exposed, the loss of those who are otherwise strangers still affects. When these faces, familiar and tied to fond memory, are gone it is a reminder that those first smiles of awe are as well. They can be replaced by nostalgia but it is never the same.
For boxing fans, both Arguello and Gatti provided not only smiles but roars of approval. While hearts go out to their families and friends, the real mourners, those outside wonder what can replace those roars. It was known that both were done with professional prizefighting but they were still among us, somewhere. New faces, new memories, new fights were taking place and one or the other could be seen ringside and the mirage of one more memory from them could exist. Their tragic deaths are final confirmation that we have received our last visual gifts from them.
Arguello was before this author’s time but the miracle of film provides the necessary DeLorean. Relatives and associates who saw him live were blessed not only to see his talents but to bask in their evolution. Simply saying Pryor-Arguello around my father still elicits a low, grunting, “Wooo.”
Gatti, conversely, was entirely of recent time. He was also of good times. The smile Gatti left on the world could be called simply the “Round Nine” because, forever and ever, those two words belong to him.
After all his many years and ring wars, it was the blue collar trilogy with Mickey Ward from 2002-03 where Gatti left his biggest stamp. The first two bouts were some of the last witnessed with a core of college buddies. Most of us were well past graduation but in the in-between phase of life where first jobs keep everyone near enough to get together for a big fight.
For us, Gatti-Ward I was a big fight and round nine, featuring Gatti’s rise from the floor to turn the tides, go back to the verge of being stopped and then rallying once more, was the pinnacle of courage for both men. At the bell, the cable box was on the fritz from a combination of screams, floor stomps, and other disturbances. Voices were hoarse and everyone was tipping beers and high fiving because of what had been witnessed. No one cared who won in the ring because we’d all just won for three minutes.
It happened again for Gatti-Ward II, particularly in the third round. Ward was dropped and refused to fall; we all refused to sit before opening another round.
We were all in different places by Gatti-Ward III.
Now, for certain, there can’t be another Gatti moment.
There can’t be another Motown 25.
There can’t be another “Here’s Johnny.”
Comedian Stephen Wright once joked, “I intend to live forever. So far, so good.”
The Weekly Ledger
Fans who wish to relive the Gatti-Ward saga will be rewarded by HBO this weekend. Details are available in Jake Donovan’s Wednesday column, still available on the main page…I’m surprised by how many people are picking the Super Middleweight tournament all the way to its end. It’s gutsy and will be fun to see how predictions change as results come in from fight to fight. Guys being able to fight another big one after a loss is really going to mess with some heads…There is some discontent in the land of fans over comments Middleweight champ Kelly Pavlik made about the tournament. It’s understandable but might it just be the first salvo in the build to afterwards? Big money often waits at the end of long builds…Speaking of builds, get ready for an inevitable one if Amir Khan beats Andriy Kotelnik on Saturday. A fun office pool suggestion: over/under on tickets sold for a Khan-Ricky Hatton fight.