After boxing legend Arturo Gatti was found dead in a Brazilian hotel room last week, his ring rival and friend “Irish” Micky Ward said that part of him died also.

This summer, Ward and Gatti were planning to visit the set of the movie "The Fighter."  Starring Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale, "The Fighter" is the star-studded life story of Ward, the Irish-American Lowell, Massachusetts native.

At the center of Ward’s boxing career is a series of now legendary bouts against Gatti, considered by many ring experts to have some of the most exhilarating moments in all of boxing history.

In fact, this coming weekend, HBO is planning to rebroadcast all three of the Gatti-Ward bouts, which spectacularly unfolded between May of 2002 and June of 2003.

Ward himself has said it was the famous fights against Gatti that not only thrilled boxing fans across North America, but also turned "The Fighter" from some kind of small-scale movie into a full-blown Hollywood feature.

When Ward retired, he served as a trainer on Gatti’s staff.  The men who battled in the ring against each other so valiantly had forged a bond outside the ring as well.

“It’s just crazy,” Ward told the boxing website the Sweet Science this week. “I can’t believe it. Part of me is gone. I feel bad for his mother, and sister and brothers, his whole family.

“A big part of me is gone.  Anytime you go 30 rounds with a guy, try to kill each other, and have the most respect for each other, no one understands that, but guys who have been to war understand it.”

Massachusetts rockers the Dropkick Murphys wrote a song called “The Warrior’s Code” about Ward. 

“You're the fighter, you've got the fire,” the song begins. “The spirit of a warrior, the champion's heart.  You fight for your life because the fighter never quits.”

This could have been written about Gatti as well.

So, what made the Gatti-Ward fights so special?  Where to begin?

The first Ward-Gatti bout took place in May of 2002 at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut.  Ward already had a 15-year career behind him, and was considered the underdog. 

Still, fight fans expected a good show as both Gatti and Ward were considered classic old school warriors.  They did not know how right they were.

Ward scored an upset victory, and Ward-Gatti I was named the single most exciting boxing match of the year in 2002.  It was the second straight year Ward earned Fight of the Year honors, following his 2001 victory over Emanuel Burton.

Following Ward-Gatti I, USA Today said, “The ninth round is one of the greatest action-filled (moments) in history.”

This thrilling match was all the more fascinating because neither Gatti nor Ward were heavyweights, but instead junior welterweights. 

Furthermore, this was not a title match.  No belts were on the line. 

Still, fight fans -- many of whom had become sick and tired of one-round knockouts in the ring and bizarre shenanigans outside of it -- were enthralled.

Ward-Gatti II took place six months later in November 2002 in Atlantic City, with Gatti scoring a unanimous decision victory.

Then came the third and final bout in this epic trilogy, on June 7, 2003.  Ward actually managed to knock Gatti down in the sixth round. 

The round that followed was a whirlwind, prompting HBO commentator Emanuel Steward to say,  "I never thought I'd see anything as exciting as the first fight. This is equaling it and maybe more so."

Gatti ultimately scored a unanimous decision.  Once again, Gatti and Ward had earned Ring Magazine’s Fight of the Year honors.

As we speak, the investigation into Gatti’s death continues.  Already it has descended into a tabloid fog, with Gatti’s stripper ex-wife saying the boxer actually strangled himself.  Expect more tawdry details to emerge.

All the more reason to tune into HBO this weekend and watch those epic bouts.  All the more reason we should hope "The Fighter," when it hits movie screens in 2011, does justice to the ring rivalry -- and friendship -- of “Irish” Micky Ward and Arturo Gatti.