This week sees the story of Arturo Gatti and his death come back to the fore, with a review in the UK’s Boxing News of a book on the boxer. Thomas Hauser, who knew Gatti somewhat and has written extensively on the sport for decades, looked at Killed in Brazil? The Mysterious Death of Arturo Gatto, and added his own thoughts on what happened.
Gatti died in the early hours of July 11, 2009, in a second-floor holiday apartment in Porto de Galinhas, Brazil.
Much of what happened that night has been debated and litigated, but this is what we know.
When he died, Arturo Gatti was in the throes of a volatile and disintegrating marriage to Amanda Rodrigues. The pair had met in late 2006, married in 2007, and had a son. There was violence and other abuse in the relationship. Gatti, who had retired the year they had gotten married, had been arrested and cited for domestic violence against Rodrigues in Hawaii in 2008. Rodrigues, it was reported in the news program 48 Hours, had also been violent to Gatti. In 2009, a restraining order from the Court of Quebec was issued, ordering Gatti to keep away from his estranged wife. Gatti would later be arrested and charged for violating this order.
Despite all this, the couple went on a three-week trip to Europe and Brazil. According to Gatti’s friend Tony Rizzo, Gatti called him during the middle of the trip to tell him that the marriage was over.
After visiting Europe, Gatti and Rodrigues went to her home country of Brazil to see family. On the night he died, the pair, with their son, went to dinner. Gatti became drunk during the meal, began to fight with Rodrigues, pushed her to the ground, and left the scene with their son. Gatti returned, got into a fight with other patrons of the restaurant who came to her aid, knocked out one man, and was hit with a bicycle on the back of his head. The couple then left, returning to their hotel.
The next morning, Rodrigues called the police after finding Gatti on the floor, dead. Complicating things was that weeks before his death, Gatti had changed his will to leave everything to Rodrigues.
It is not a stretch to say that he has influenced a generation of writers on the sweet science. But he has been a controversial figure at times. In February 2012, he joined HBO as a consultant, a move that elicited shock across the boxing world. Hauser had been a vocal and prominent critic of HBO Boxing, and had suggested publicly that the broadcaster hire someone like him to oversee matchmaking. In moving to become a consultant, Hauser admitted that his new role would preclude him from criticism of his new employer.
As Tim Smith of the NY Daily News wrote at the time, “The HBO honchos hired Hauser to silence him and have given him some nebulous responsibilities that call for him to develop projects. Wish we all could get those kinds of six-figure development deals. This is a real head scratcher even for people who have followed boxing for a long time. It looks like an orchestrated campaign by Hauser to get a job with HBO. And by giving him a job, HBO is admitting that his criticism was correct and he’s the only one who can fix it. Shame on both of them.”
Hauser currently writes a regular column for Boxing News, drawing on his extensive experience and career in writing about combat sports. His work there is excellent, although unfortunately constrained by the limits placed on him through page sizes.
This week, Hauser looked at Hamilcar Noir’s Killed in Brazil?: The Mysterious Death of Arturo Gatti, part of Hamilcar Publications’ ongoing series of books looking at the darker side of boxing, with titles on Johnny Tapia, Edwin Valero, Carlos Monzon, Oscar Bonavena, and Ike Ibeabuchi.
I have yet to read Tobin’s book, but the story of Gatti’s death has been covered extensively in the American and Canadian media. It has also been investigated by authorities in Brazil. While Gatti’s family believe he was murdered, the official response in Brazil is that it was suicide. Lawsuits flew in the following years. Eventually, the Canadian courts sided with Rodrigues in 2011 and awarded her Gatti’s estate. And, yet, in August this year, according to The Ring, investigators hired by the family were still pushing their conclusion of murder.
Hauser sides with the family. As he writes in Boxing News, “I lean toward the conclusion that Arturo was murdered but for a different reason, one that I’ve previously stated.”
On the night he died, says Hauser, Gatti had drunk seven cans of beers and two bottles of wine. From personal experience, Hauser says that Gatti, this drunk, would not have been able to fashion a noose from his wife’s handbag, tie it to the stair railings, and step off a stool to kill himself.
Hauer writes: “I don’t think Arturo was capable of doing all of that on the night he died. Why not? In 2003, I was at the annual Boxing Writers Association of America dinner at a hotel in midtown Manhattan when Gatti and Micky Ward were co-honoured for participating in the 2002 Fight of the Year. Midway through the dinner, I left my seat to go to the men’s room. When I got there, an intimidating young man was blocking the entrance. ‘You can’t go in there,’ he said. ‘Why can’t I go in there?’ ‘It’s in use. You’ll have to go to another floor.’ ‘What do you mean, it’s in use? There are a dozen urinals and toilets in there.’”
He continues: “At that point, Arturo staggers out of the men’s room, dead drunk, accompanied by a woman who looked very much like a dancer at a not-very-exclusive adult club. ‘Blow job,’ Arturo announced when he saw me. And he pointed to his fly. Which was still unzipped. In that condition, Arturo couldn’t have walked a straight line, let along figured out the mechanics of detaching his wife’s purse strap, hooking it over a staircase railing, and hanging himself.”
Hauser is making some assumptions here, though. Firstly, he does not know how much Gatti had drunk in 2003 at the BWAA dinner. It is possible that Gatti had drunk more that night, and by that point, than the seven beers and two bottles of wine he would drink on that night in 2009. Also, when Gatti died in 2009, there is also the chance that he had begun to sober up after a night of heavy drinking. That he would be at the same level of inebriation is a big and significant jump.
If Hauser is correct, that means that either Amanda Rodrigues or Amanda Rodrigues and others killed Gatti. Neither scenario is particularly believable. Firstly, Rodrigues weighed around 100lbs in 2009, while Gatti was walking around at 160lbs. If Rodrigues acted alone, she would have had to not only put a noose around Gatti’s neck, but would then have to hoist him to a point where the noose would be tied seven feet off the ground. That seems impossible. The second scenario—of others entering the apartment—also seems impossible. The third-floor hotel room in question was accessed only by electronic keycards. Investigators later found that no one had entered or left the apartment between the couple arriving and the next morning when Gatti was dead.
Any murder scenario is unlikely. Plus, if Rodrigues had decided to kill Gatti that night, why try to make it look like he used to a noose to do so? If he was comatose, she could have cut his wrists or jugular with broken glass. Hauser also does not mention—or seem to know—that an autopsy done in Canada in 2011 found no evidence of homicide, although it took the Brazilian police to task for a sloppy investigation.
The people around Gatti maintain that he had too much love of life to commit suicide. But Joe Gatti, Arturo’s older brother, maintained in 2011 that the fighter died by his own hand. “He was on drugs, he was on painkillers, and he was an alcoholic,” he said. “I believe it. I believe it. That night in Brazil, he found himself in a dark place.”
Suicide is often an impulsive act. As German Lopez wrote for Vox, “[…] Jill Harkavy-Friedman, vice president of research for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, told me years of research show that suicides tend to be fairly impulsive acts during short-term crises, and they can be caused by multiple factors that sometimes may not be perfectly clear to the public or even friends and family.”
Gatti also had a history of suicide attempts. As Canada’s CBC reported in 2011, “In court documents filed in 2006, a former girlfriend Gatti was living with at the time stated that he had ‘attempted suicide by overdosing on cocaine, alcohol and prescription drugs’ the year prior. Hospital records from New Jersey, a state the Montrealer temporarily called home, say that Gatti arrived at an emergency department in an ‘unresponsive’ state, testing positive for cocaine and alcohol. Longtime friend Mario Costa told The Fifth Estate that a year earlier, in 2004, Gatti also threatened to commit suicide during a late-night visit to his home. ‘He says, ‘Please give me my gun,’ said Costa. ‘I was afraid. I had my gun there but I told him I don’t have my gun.… I believe if I gave him my gun that night, he would probably blow his head off right in front of me. That’s how bad he was.’”
He also had a history of violence against others. A 2009 Florida case saw him accused of attacking one man, giving him brain damage. There were also reported fights with police officers. Gatti had also been convicted in three states, prior to meeting Rodrigues, of drunk driving. In December 2007, reported The Globe and Mail, he went to rehab in Florida.
Much of the ‘science’ about the subsequent, non-police investigations into Gatti’s death have been found to be problematic. Gatti was found lying on his side beneath the stairs. The initial investigation, which consulted a body mechanics expert, said this was impossible, and that Gatti should have fallen straight to the ground. But that assessment was based on later photographs of the body, after it had possibly been moved by police.
Here is a more-plausible scenario. On returning to their hotel room, Gatti, now sobering up and becoming remorseful, continues to argue with Rodrigues.
At this point, Rodrigues tells him that the marriage is over and that she and their son will not be leaving Brazil. She goes to bed.
Gatti, sobering and distraught, realises the position that he is in. He looks around, sees her handbag, takes its strap, and kills himself. As his friend Tony Rizzo said to 48 Hours, “His son – he was scared to lose his son. I spoke to him about it a few times. He said, ‘Tony, I have to see my son. I have to stick to this, no matter what.’”
Hauser is a good writer. He is a lawyer, too. But he is wrong about Gatti. Every indication and shred of evidence suggests that Gatti killed himself. He had a history of suicide attempts, of substance abuse, of domestic violence, and he was under considerable stress over the potential failure of his marriage and the possible loss of his son.
Amanda Rodrigues has never come across well in any interview she has done. Her stories of the loving relationship between her and Gatti do not ring true. There are many stories about them, from Canada, from those around them, that paint a very different picture. Much of what is rumoured and of how she comes across makes Rodrigues look deplorable. But none of this is evidence of her being a murderer.
Gatti was a flawed human being with his share of darkness. We all are. There were parts of him that were likeable, even admirable. He was loved by many of those around him. But he was also locked into a toxic marriage that he was about to be shut out of. About to lose everything, he probably saw it as his time to check out.
–Click here to read more from and learn about Pete Carvill