Welcome to the City of Champions
03.01.09 - By Ted Sares - I played it like a man but I enjoyed it like a boy. --Hagler
What could be better than walking down any street in any city and knowing you're the heavyweight champion of the world? --Marciano
Goody's a legend in this business. It's part of his passion. For me, as a young guy making this my dream and passion, he's lived it. I admire Goody big time. It's an honor to be doing things with Goody. --Rich Cappiello
Brockton, Massachusetts is a gritty, multi-ethnic, and densely populated city located in a working-class setting of about 94,000 people on the outskirts of Boston. It has a whole lot of soul and an interesting history.. Perhaps as much as anything, it is known for the rise and fall of the American shoe industry and it has a museum that features that story. It also is referred to as the "City of Champions," due in part to the great success of its high school athletic programs. Indeed, Brockton High's nickname is the "Boxers" and its football team has had nine prefect seasons and two state championships. But the nickname is the clue to the real reason why Brockton is known as the "City of Champions.”
The legendary Rocco Marchegiano aka Rocky Marciano was born in Brockton on September 1, 1923. He became heavyweight champion of the world when he defeated Jersey Joe Walcott in 1952 and held the crown until 1956. Rocky defended his title six times, winning five fights by knockouts.
Tragically, he left us in a small plane crash in Newton, Iowa on August 31, 1969. He is lovingly remembered by all Brocktonians. While it is impossible to give him his due in a short piece like this, suffice it to say there was only one “Brockton Blockbuster” who, as a professional, won an unparalleled forty-nine straight fights of which forty-three - about 90 % - were by stoppages.
Marvelous Marvin (1973-1987)
Another legendary champion from the same hometown is Marvelous Marvin Hagler. Though born in equally gritty Newark, NJ, he started his serious boxing career in Brockton. After winning 57 amateur fights and the 1973 AAU national middleweight championship, he turned professional and the rest is, of course, well documented.
He too had a great local following as he became the second world champion in a place no one really knew much about. Marciano, who would be an inspiration for Hagler, first called national attention to Brockton; Hagler put it on the global map as he posted a 62-3-2 professional record and successfully defended his middleweight crown twelve times, two shy of the great Carlos Monzon's record. He also scored a remarkable 52 knockouts. Hagler was trained and managed for most of his career by two Brockton-born brothers, Goody and Pat Petronelli, one of whom still owns and operate the famous Petronelli Brothers Gym in this blue collar city which has seen better days.
“Fifteen years after Marvin Hagler’s retirement, Goody Petronelli’s gym remains a kind of shrine to the man. There are scores of pictures of Hagler crowding every available space — including a wall-size mural of the Marvelous One, his sunglasses glinting in the sun, his arms raised in salute to the city that, by all accounts, he still adores…” (Taken from “Fighting Chance” by Chris Wright, the Phoenix.com, August 15 - 22, 2002, http:// thebostonphoenix.com/boston/news_features/ top/features/documents/ 02397910.htm)
The brothers trained, among others, Robbie Sims, Steve Collins (who became a world champion), Kevin McBride (who retired Mike Tyson), and younger relative Tony Petronelli. In 2007, the Brockton Historical Society honored the boxing trainers and brothers with its Historic Citizen Awards given for decades of success in their sport and helping youth in the city.
Tony Petronelli (1972-1979)
Speaking of the Petronelli brothers, Pat’s son Tony won the North American Boxing Federation Light Welterweight championship when he beat Gaetan Hart by twelfth round KO in 1976. He would lose his fight for the WBA light welterweight title when he was stopped in three rounds in San Juan by the great Wilfred Benitez. The crafty Tony would go 7-2 before retiring in 1979 with a solid slate of 42-4-1. One of his wins would come against undefeated Jimmy Corkum 27-0 at the time. Tony also beat the very active Irish Beau Jaynes out of Lowell, MA three times. Beau finished his career with a 53-43 Mak. Alos among Tony’s victims was Al Romano whom he dispatcehd in three cantos in 1973. Tough Al was 56-17-1 coming in.
“…For most of his boxing career, Hagler had supplemented his income working as a laborer for the Petronellis’ construction firm, as had his friend and longtime stablemate, Pat’s son Tony Petronelli.
“Tony had at one point been considered the more promising of the two. At one point he owned the USBA light-welterweight title, but his career took a right turn when he was soundly whipped in a 1976 WBA title fight against Wilfred Benitez in San Juan, and he never regained his prior form.” (from “Look Back in Anger: Hagler-Minter, Wembley Arena, London, Sept. 27, 1980,” by George Kimball, the Sweet Science, December 6, 2006).
Another extremely well known and active pair of brothers, Rich (a promoter) and Mike Cappiello, operate a gym on Main Street, Cappiello Brothers Boxing and Fitness Club. It’s a few miles across town from the Petronelli’s gym. Cappiello Promotions has made its mark as one of the top promotional companies on the East Coast. Interestingly, the brothers are cousins of Rocky Marciano and have done much over the years to keep the memory of Rocky alive.
Mike Cappiello (1986-1998)
Though Brockton-born, Mike never was a world champion. However, he managed a high ranking; indeed, he ended with a fine record of 33-6 and won the New England Super Featherweight Title in 1990. His shot at the brass ring came in 1966 when he was stopped in 5 against Israel Cardona (20-0 coming in) with the IBO super featherweight title at stake.
Robbie Sims (1980-1996)
This vastly underrated and essentially ambidextrous fighter is both Brockton-born and Brockton -raised. He finished with an excellent 38-10-2 mark in a career that spanned sixteen years. Sims fought extremely tough opposition including Nigel Benn, Vinny Pazienza, Ron Essett, Roberto Duran ( whom he decisioned in 1986), Doug DeWitt (twice), Sumbu Kalambay (for the WBA middleweight title), Iran Barkley, Danny Long, Tony Chiaverini, Murray Sutherland, Clint Jackson, Bobby Czyz, James “Hard Rock” Green, and many other rugged opponents.
Robbie, the half-brother of Marvin Hagler, may have been one of the very best middleweights who never won a world title. He did, however, win the USBA middleweight crown in 1986 with a shocking one round TKO over Chicagoan John Collins who was 34-1-1 at the time. Collins would never fight again.
Though not world champions, Cappiello, Petronelli and Sims were solid contenders who manifestly put a stamp on Brockton’s nickname of City of Champions.” Another fighter, though not quite of the same level, was “Irish Mike” Culbert who came from Ireland to train at the Petronelli’s Gym and work in Brockton.
Mike Culbert (1988-2006)
During his long career, which admittedly was fought against mediocre opponents with mostly losing records, Mike did win the Massachusetts State titles in back-to-back fights: the super middleweight by 10-round decision against Carlos DeJesus, and the middleweight by 10-round decision against Jimmy Cappiello. .
The last time I saw Irish Mike fight was when he won a hard fought 8-rounder over Jimmy Cappiello of Somerville, MA for the U.S.B.F. Regional Super Middleweight Championship at the Roxy in Boston on April 1, 2000. It was beer sloshing, slam banging, ball room boxing at its best; blue collar stuff all the way. It was great.
Mike finished with a fine 30-4-1 mark and now works full time as a supervisor at the Department of Youth Services in Brockton.
The author with Carmen Basilio (Photo from author’s collection)
The International Boxing Hall of Fame was founded in 1984 in Canastota which is a great little place located near Syracuse. The town’s two famous boxers, Carmen Basilio and his nephew Billy Backus both won world titles. Dickie Di Veronica also was a notable fighter who was raised in this small village. Each year in June, the village explodes as it hosts the Induction Weekend during a four-day celebration. The IBHOF, under the able leadership of Executive Director, Ed Brophy, has become a must visit for any boxing enthusiast.
But Canastota, vital as it is to boxing, differs from Brockton as much as two place can possibly differ. While the sport of boxing closely links the two, only one deserves to be called the “City of Champions”
Welcome to Brockton--the City of Champions.
Take a tour of the author’s website at www.tedsares.com
Article posted on 03.01.2009
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