There is a rich history of boxing in Brockton, Massachusetts. At one point it looked like that boxing lineage might have left Brockton for good. But, thanks to the Capiello Brothers, the ties to Rocky Marciano, Marvin Hagler, Steve Collins, and others remains strong.
The story that leads to the Capiello Brothers starts with Petronelli’s Gym…
Guerino ‘Goody’ Petronelli and his brother Pasquale (Pat) formed one of the most esteemed training teams of their era. Based in Brockton, Massachusetts, the Petronellis’ most famous client was ‘Marvelous’ Marvin Hagler who reigned for many years as the middleweight champion of the world. Only a 1987 loss to the comeback king himself, Sugar Ray Leonard, was enough to knock Marvin off of his perch. Leonard had moved from welterweight to relieve Hagler of his belts and the contentious loss sent the sultry southpaw bitterly into retirement.
The Petronellis were a highly respected duo, renowned for their honest and straightforward approach to the sport. Goody Petronelli was well known for testing the character of up and coming fighters by setting them tough sparring assignments or heavy sessions, waiting to see how the prospect reacted and thus gauge their temperament. Hagler’s stint with the Petronellis worked extremely well from start to finish and Marvin trained with them as an amateur and then throughout his entire pro career. Even through the lean times when Hagler was struggling to nail down a shot at the middleweight titles, he stayed loyal and continued to train with the brothers in Brockton.
The city’s most famous son still remains Rocky Marciano, the self-styled ‘Brockton Blockbuster’, who was friendly with Goody Petronelli right up until Rocky’s untimely death in 1969.
Other fighters that also availed of the Petronellis’ reputed, old school techniques included Hagler’s half-brother Robbie Sims and heavyweight Kevin McBride who relocated from Ireland and still lives in Boston. Another Irishman, Steve Collins, fought in the United States 19 times at the beginning of his career. A trip to Boston with the Irish amateur squad in 1986 was enough to persuade the Cabra man to up sticks and plot a route to stardom across the pond. Collins was trained and co-managed by the Petronelli brothers until he left to chase the world title dream back home in his native Ireland and across the water in the UK. Collins boxed twice for the world title while under the wing of the Petronellis – against Mike McCallum and Reggie Johnson.
When Collins made his professional debut on October 24 in Lowell he was in good company. Not only was popular Irish-American slugger Micky Ward on the bill but headlining the card and suffering his 13th defeat in the process was a battle-hardened veteran called Freddie Roach. This is significant because over 10 years later Collins would be trained by the man who learned his coaching nous from a career of tough battles, but also under the tutelage of training icon Eddie Futch. Roach was an excellent amateur who excelled on the regional scene but soon after switching codes turned into an all-action slugger who retired from the sport aged only 26 due to the severity of his continuing ring wars. Freddie went on to man the corner for some of Collins’ most defining nights, including his two stoppage wins over Nigel Benn. The pair enjoyed a fruitful relationship right up until Collins retired after his win over Craig Cummings in 1997.
The physical gym space that Collins and so many others used to hone their skills retained its mythical status but finally the years took their toll on the aging building that housed the Petronelli Gym. The same building had once been used by an abstinence society who lobbied to end alcohol distribution. When not counselling on the evils of alcohol use, the organization sponsored amateur boxing events and this helped pave the way to a greater fistic tradition as the Petronellis took it over in the early 1980s and opened a gym on the third floor.
Such was the impact made upon Brockton and the wider area, in 1999 a street was re-named ‘Petronelli Way’ as a mark of recognition for the brothers’ accomplishments across the decades. In recent years the building began to show signs of its age and facilities failed, walls collapsed and it became dangerous and close to uninhabitable. In 2011 a water pipe burst, resulting in no power and the gym was finally closed down.
Thankfully this was not the end of boxing in Brockton. In 2009 brothers Rich and Mike Cappiello moved their gym to Brockton’s Main Street, in honor of Rocky Marciano, and not far from Petronellis –by this time run exclusively by Pat Petronelli- which, as mentioned, would close down two years later. The brothers also started up Cappiello Promotions to operate as a promotional wing of the enterprise. They have been quieter of late, focusing on the Brockton gym, but some decent fighters have worked under the Cappiellos. Heavyweight contender Tony Grano and former USBA super-bantamweight champion Mike ‘Machine Gun’ Oliver have featured in prominent positions on Cappiello cards.
Mike Cappiello handled the career of Canadian cruiserweight Anthony Russell, who once fought world title challenger Andrzej Fonfara. Veteran middleweight Elvin Ayala, who has mixed with the likes of Curtis Stevens, Arthur Abraham and David Lemieux across a solid career, was a Cappiello fighter. Lightweight ‘Nasty’ Nick Morganelli and hard-punching Irish heavyweight James Clancy were also on the scene. 2008 Golden Glove champion Steven Antoine Wilks returned to the gym to train local aspiring talents as part of a ‘Brockton After Dark’ programme that aimed to encourage potential champions of the future in through the doors.
Turning professional shortly after Steve Collins, Mike Cappiello boxed from 1986-1998, winning 33 of his 39 bouts and in a fitting manner, was also trained by the Petronellis.
Presently, the Cappiellos’ best hope for title glory is amateur standout Frankie DeJesus who has competed in the Golden Gloves and once claimed the ‘Rocky Marciano Tournament of Champions’ title.