Late Pat Petronelli cast a big shadow in Brockton boxing ring
by Jim Fenton
Pat Petronelli, the co-manager of Marvelous Marvin Hagler, and I were taking a relaxing break during a hectic week that would culminate with another defense of the Brockton-based fighter’s world middleweight championship.
As we sat there enjoying the atmosphere, a few laughs and a couple of pina coladas, a man in a bathing suit approached Petronelli with a request.
“Hey, Mr. Petronelli,’’ he said, “have you got room in your gym for another middleweight?’’
The question came from Doc Severinsen, the longtime bandleader for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show.
Pleasantries were exchanged and laughs filled the air, and when the visit was over, Severinsen went back to his spot by the pool after giving his regards to the co-manager from a city of 100,000 residents in eastern Massachusetts.
“Not bad for a guy from Brockton, huh?’’ Petronelli said to me after being approached by the famous musician.
Not bad at all.
It was a wild ride that Petronelli, his brother, Goody, and Hagler went on from the time he walked into their gym on Centre Street in Brockton until the final bout of an illustrious career in 1987.
They went from small-time, little-known players on the boxing scene all the way to the top of the profession with Hagler becoming one of the greatest middleweights in history.
Guiding him along the way were the Petronelli brothers in their gym, which moved a block over in downtown Brockton during the 1980s to a street that is now known as Petronelli Way.
They called themselves, “The Triangle’’ and stuck together through a 67-fight professional career.
Now, one member of “The Triangle’’ is gone after Pat Petronelli died over the weekend at the age of 89 following a period of failing health.
They were quite a team, with Goody Petronelli in charge of the ring strategy, Pat Petronelli handling most of the business aspects and Hagler doing damage against his opponents.
The brothers struck gold when Hagler, who moved to Brockton from Newark, N.J., as a teenager, walked into their gym and announced he wanted to become a fighter.
He trusted the brothers, who put him to work in their construction business and watched him develop into an all-time great.
Through it all, as the purses got larger and the celebrities came to know him on a first-name basis, Pat Petronelli always stayed true to his Brockton roots.
“He never ever forgot where he came from,’’ said Tony Petronelli, Pat’s son and a former North American Boxing Federation light welterweight champion. “He never changed. He was a care-free guy. He never thought that, because he had a few more bucks, he was better than anyone else.
“He would always joke around, clown around. He was always the same. I see guys now who used to fight for him and Goody, and they tell me, ‘Tony, he always made sure we were alright. He made sure we had a couple of bucks in our pockets, a roof over our heads.’ He tried to help others out.
“Boxing’s got a big loss with the loss of my father.’’
Pat Petronelli, one of 12 family siblings, and his brother, Goody, were attracted to the fight game early. They realized a dream when a gym in downtown Brockton was opened some 40 years ago.
“I can remember being a small kid, maybe six or seven years old,’’ said Tony Petronelli on Sunday night. “I’d see them down in the cellar with a heavybag, hitting it. I said, ‘What are they doing?’ I saw it was in their blood and I started hitting it.’’
The big break came when Hagler joined the gym and, under the guidance of the Petronellis, refined his skills to become one of the nation’s best amateurs before turning pro on May 18, 1973.
Hagler kept piling up the wins, but he was unable to crack into the world middleweight title picture. There were calls for him to leave the Petronellis for a bigger name in order to speed up the process.
Instead, Hagler stayed true to the two brothers who had brought him along, and he won the championship on Sept. 27, 1980, keeping it until losing a controversial decision to Sugar Ray Leonard on April 6, 1987.
“My father and Goody didn’t just have a champion,’’ said Tony Petronelli, who received a condolence call from Hagler on Sunday, “they had a superstar in Marvin. And they had some good fighters besides him.’’
The 1980s were a good time to be around boxing, especially for a young reporter from a newspaper in Brockton who got to travel around the country – and to Italy – with Hagler and the Petronelli.
It was quite an experience, and Pat Petronelli will never be forgotten for the way he made sure The Enterprise representative was always right there getting the same access, and more, as Sports Illustrated, the New York Times and the other major outlets covering Hagler.
He also always made things fun, keeping things light with a keen sense of humor that is missed.
With his brother, Goody, and Hagler, Pat Petronelli had one incredible ride in boxing.
Not bad for a guy from Brockton, huh?
Staff writer Jim Fenton can be reached at Jfenton@enterprisenews.com
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