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Arturo Gatti, left, engaged in a memorable trilogy of bouts with Micky Ward. ((Donna Connor/Associated Press))

Former world boxing champion Arturo Gatti, who was raised in Montreal, was found dead in northeastern Brazil on Saturday.

Gatti was found dead in a hotel room in Porto de Galinhas in what Brazilian police described as suspicious circumstances.

Police investigator Edilson Alves told The Associated Press that it was unclear how the 37-year-old died. "It is still too early to say anything concrete, although it is all very strange," Alves said.

Gatti's wife, Amanda, and 10-month-old son were unharmed.

Nicknamed "Thunder," Gatti was born in Italy but grew up in Montreal, where he learned to box.

Gatti moved to New Jersey as a teen and it was there that he began to embark on his professional career marked by some of the most exciting bouts in recent years in the sport.

"His entire boxing career he fought with us, we've known him since he was 17," Kathy Duva of promoter Main Events told The Associated Press. "It's just an unspeakable tragedy. I can't even find words. It's a horror."

Gatti built his reputation on a slew of slugfests that featured his ability to give and absorb a tremendous amount of punishment. On four separate occasions, he engaged in bouts recognized by Ring Magazine as the fight of the year.

He often lived outside the ring like he fought, arrested most recently in April for assault.

After winning the International Boxing Federation 130-pound junior lightweight title in 1995 against Tracy Harris Paterson, he defended the title three times. Included were knockout wins over Wilson Rodriguez and Gabriel Ruelas, bouts in which he was badly hurt before rebounding to win.

The Ruelas bout got the nod as Ring's fight of 1997.

Gatti lost the belt to Angel Manfredy, and many wrote him off when he lost two stirring battles with Ivan Robinson, the first of which was named fight of the year in 1998.

Unable to avoid punches Gatti was able to regroup in his career in large part thanks to new trainer James (Buddy) McGirt, who tried his best to get his charge to resist the urge to brawl in every bout.

The pairing was successful, allowing Gatti to win a second world title belt in 2004 when he defeated Italy's Gianluca Branco by decision.

Still, his limitations as a fighter were exposed when he fought the elite in boxing, and he lost one-sided fights to the likes of Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather.

Critics derided Gatti's inability to avoid punches, and some wins didn't come without controversy. He took full advantage of weigh-ins held a day before fight time, often packing back on several pounds by the time the bell rang.

Joey Gamache, after a vicious knockout loss to Gatti in 2000, sued the New York State Athletic Commission after it was revealed there had been an 18-pound gap in weight between the men, essentially putting them in different weight classes.

Gatti was scheduled to testify next week in New York in connection with the lawsuit, according to a report in the New York Daily News.

But Gatti had legions of followers for a style that hearkened back to boxing's televised glory days of the 1950s. Thousands turned out for frequent bouts at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, where he would enter to the strains of Thunderstruck by AC/DC.

He essentially became a New Jersey son, only fighting professionally once in Montreal.

Gatti sealed his place in boxing history with three brutal junior welterweight bouts in 2002-03 against Micky Ward, winning two. The first and third fights of the trilogy were recognized by Ring and the fans as the best of the year for their excitement level.

Despite battering each other from pillar to post, the two men forged a friendship. After he retired, Ward on occasion even accompanied Gatti on his walks to the ring,

Gatti last fought in 2007, losing by seventh-round stoppage to Alfonso Gomez. He finished with a record of 40-9, with 31 knockouts.

With files from The Associated Press