Commentary

Gatti's family still pursues details

Updated: November 11, 2009, 9:03 PM ET
By Jeremy Schaap and Yaron S. Deskalo | E:60

BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil -- In his 15-year pro career, Arturo Gatti was boxing's ultimate tough guy -- relentlessly aggressive, all but indomitable. He was the victor in some of the hardest-fought bouts in boxing history. So when he turned up dead, at the age of 37, in his room at a resort in northeastern Brazil on July 11, those closest to him rejected the notion he had killed himself. They assumed he had been murdered.

That's also what his wife said.

In the hours after she found her husband dead -- in his underwear, lying in a heap on a cold, tiled floor -- Amanda Gatti told police she thought Arturo had been killed.

[+] EnlargeGatti
AP Photo/Tim LarsenIn an attempted comeback to the sport, Arturo Gatti fought Alfonso Gomez on July 14, 2007, in Atlantic City, N.J. But Gatti was TKO'd, and announced his retirement afterward in the dressing room.

Born and raised in southern Brazil, Amanda Rodrigues married Arturo Gatti in Las Vegas in August 2007 after a brief courtship. She was 21. Their son, Arturo Jr., was born in September 2008. To say the marriage was volatile would be an understatement.

"I mean it was turmoil from the beginning," said Pat Lynch, who managed Gatti to two world titles from the time he moved from Montreal to New Jersey as a teenager. "It was constant fighting, I mean it was a mess. They were together one day, they were apart the next day."

Amanda Gatti denies that she met Arturo when she was working at the Squeeze Lounge strip club in northern New Jersey, but the manager of the Squeeze Lounge -- and others -- told ESPN otherwise. Regardless, there was something magnetic that drew Arturo and Amanda together. When he wasn't training, Gatti could often be found in strip clubs and bars. He never lost his taste for New York's nightlife. But until he met Rodrigues, he had never been married, not even to the mother of his first child, Sophia.

Numerous witnesses to the quarrels between Arturo and Amanda say the Gattis fought pitched verbal battles, hurling insults and threats at each other, but never saw them strike each other. The relationship was so flammable that shortly after the birth of their son, Arturo moved out of the couple's apartment in Montreal and into his mother's basement, a few miles away. By May of this year, Arturo was visiting a divorce attorney. According to the terms of their prenuptial agreement, Arturo would have walked away from the marriage owing Amanda little. But by June, Arturo and Amanda had reconciled. On June 17, Gatti changed his will. Previously, his mother, Ida Gatti, and Sophia had been the beneficiaries. The new will stipulated that, in the event of his death, Amanda would inherit his entire $6 million estate.

The day after Arturo signed the new will, the Gattis went to Europe on vacation.

There, though, the couple was fighting again, and Arturo left a voicemail message for his friend Tony Rizzo in Montreal: "Tony, you were right. It's a f------ nightmare. I'll talk to you later, all right. I'm, I'm gonna be back sooner than I expected. Ciao."

Gatti returned to Montreal with Arturo Jr., but Amanda flew straight from Europe to Brazil. The following week, in early July, both Arturos met Amanda in Porto de Galinhas, a resort town just south of Recife, a city with about 3 million inhabitants. On July 10, they checked into a duplex room at the mid-market Dorisol Hotel, situated on the Atlantic.

That night, according to several eyewitnesses, the Gattis, with Arturo Jr. in tow, ate dinner together at a pizzeria on the beach in Porto de Galinhas. The pizzeria's manager said the couple appeared to be happy, splitting two bottles of wine. But soon afterward, several witnesses told Brazilian police, Arturo was beating Amanda in the street.

Paulo Alberes, the detective who investigated Gatti's death, said, "One of the people that saw him beating her said that after he beat her, Amanda was just sliding on the asphalt because of the violence of the punch."

[+] EnlargeAmanda Rodrigues
AP Photo/Clemilson Campos/JC ImagemPolice escort Amanda Gatti, center, after she was arrested in Recife, Brazil, on July 12. Authorities detained her after Gatti's body was found in a hotel room at the Porto de Galinhas resort in northeastern Brazil.

Then, in a scene hard to imagine, a Good Samaritan stepped in to try to protect Amanda. For his efforts, Jorge Soares -- short, stout and middle-aged -- says he was viciously attacked.

"I went to ask what was going on; I didn't know who it was," Soares said, "and right away he was assaulting me. He punched me here, he punched me here, he punched me here, I got KO'd, on the ground."

At this point, witnesses have told police that several bystanders started throwing rocks -- and even a bicycle -- at Arturo Gatti, opening a small gash in his head. Amanda had run off. He still had Arturo Jr. in his stroller. Finally, bleeding and furious, Gatti got in a taxi to return to the Dorisol.

The driver, Jose Jeronimo Cardoso, told ESPN that Gatti said, "If not for the kid, I would have killed everyone!"

Eventually, Amanda had a taxi take her to the Dorisol. But by then, Gatti had returned to downtown Porto de Galinhas, with Arturo Jr., to look for her. She was waiting for her husband outside her room -- she needed him to pay for her taxi -- when he and their son returned after 2 a.m.

Amanda's driver -- perhaps the last person, other than Amanda and Arturo Jr., to see Gatti alive -- told ESPN that Gatti looked sad, not angry, and that the couple walked into their room quietly.

Amanda Gatti declined to address specifically what led to the fight with her husband. This is what she did say: "At the end of the night we had an argument, and Arturo pushed me and I hurt myself, so when we go home, when he saw me, I was bleeding, and Arturo asked me, 'Baby, did I do that?' And I say, 'Yeah, you did that.' And that's the last time I spoke to Arturo."

Gatti was dead within a few hours. Why would a healthy, rich, famous, successful father of a newborn son -- whom everyone agrees he adored -- kill himself?

"The first reaction from me and my wife is [Amanda] had him killed," said Lynch, his manager. "Or she killed him."

[+] EnlargeAmanda Rodrigues
AP Photo/Clemilson Campos/JC ImagemAmanda Gatti was released from a women's prison in Recife, Brazil, on July 30, after authorities ruled Arturo Gatti's death was a suicide.

Amanda Gatti's theory: "He saw what he did to me. And Arturo knew the next day I would not accept that." Amanda suggested that Arturo knew she would leave him and move back to Brazil, with Arturo Jr.

The hotel manager on duty at the time Amanda says she discovered Arturo's body told ESPN that Amanda was in hysterics when he arrived in the room. If she was faking, he said, she is a truly great actress.

Perhaps it was natural, therefore, for Amanda to express to the police her belief that Arturo had been murdered. But when she changed her story the next day -- this time saying he must have killed himself -- she was arrested and charged with murder.

Soon the results of the official autopsy were released. Arturo Gatti, the coroner determined, had hanged himself with a thick canvas purse strap. After 18 days in jail, Amanda was freed.

"He used a purse strap, he locked it behind his head and he released the stool that he was on," Alberes said. "There's no other solution, there's no other alternative. It was suicide."

Gatti's family in Montreal and his closest friends say the investigation was incomplete. The police never tried to determine whose blood had stained a bedsheet found upstairs in the Gattis' suite at the Dorisol. They are also troubled by the fact that while Alberes maintains that the 160-pound Gatti was hanging for approximately three hours, when forensics experts in Brazil suspended a dummy weighing 80 pounds from a strap similar to the strap found beside Gatti, it snapped in five seconds. On July 31, the Gattis had Arturo disinterred and the results of a second autopsy are pending.

"I believe that my brother deserves justice," Fabrizio Gatti, Arturo's younger brother, says. "My family deserves to know the truth also."

The Gatti family in Montreal is determined to deny Amanda access to Arturo's $6 million estate. But in the absence of any hard evidence linking her to his death, it seems likely that she will collect. For now, she is still living in Brazil, with her son, in a small village five hours by car from Belo Horizonte, the nearest big city.

"It's been hard," she said in heavily accented but impeccable English. "You know, it's been hard to wake up every day without him. It's been hard to see my kid growing without him."

When ESPN asked her if she had anything to do with her husband's death, she said, "Of course not. If I knew my husband would do this, I would have done anything to protect him."

Jeremy Schaap is a reporter for "E:60," and Yaron S. Deskalo is a producer for "E:60."

Jeremy Schaap

SportsCenter Reporter/Host, Classic Sports Reporters
Jeremy Schaap is an ESPN anchor and national correspondent, based in New York since 1998. He is a New York Times best-selling author ("Cinderella Man: James J. Braddock, Max Baer, and the Greatest Upset in Boxing History") and a contributor to "ABC World News Tonight" and "Nightline."