Image Credit: Al Bello/Getty ImagesWhen Mark Wahlberg first told people he was making a movie about Micky Ward, one of the most common reactions was, “Cool, who’s playing Arturo Gatti?” To many boxing fans, Ward and Gatti are inseparable because of their three historic brawls that secured their legacies as two of the toughest pound-for-pound warriors in the sport. In 2002 and 2003, the two men squared off three consecutive times within a span of 13 months. Their fights were videogame slugfasts, the kind of brawls that if they happened in the movies, you’d say, “That’s so unrealistic, because no one can give and take that kind of punishment.” Check out Round 9 of their jaw-rattling first fight, which may just as well have taken place in some dark alley.

Gatti and Ward eventually became friends and ultimately partners, à la Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed. Sadly, he died in 2009 under mysterious circumstances. Though Gatti doesn’t appear in The Fighter, which opens today in a few cities, he’s mentioned briefly as the imposing boxer awaiting the winner of Ward’s climactic title fight against Shea Neary, and he’s referenced in the post-film epilogue. It’s a credit to the filmmakers that the movie works even without the most celebrated chapters of Ward’s professional life, though they would’ve had a difficult time creating something more dramatic than those three epic confrontations. Plus, Wahlberg, tough as he is, should be relieved that he never had to re-enact those punishing fights against Ward’s greatest rival.

Have you ever seen two boxers take so much punishment? Will you be seeing The Fighter this weekend?

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