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Kevin Cullen

A shrine to champions

Email|Print| Text size + By Kevin Cullen
Globe Columnist / December 6, 2007

Billy Shores and Skip Jones were sitting on chairs when Goody Petronelli walked into the office.

Petronelli went to his desk and flicked on the overhead fluorescent light.

"Billy's looking for a fight," Skip Jones said.

Goody Petronelli nodded. That was fine by him.

Skip Jones trains boxers at the Petronelli Brothers Gym in Brockton. And he finds fights for young novices looking for a shot, and for journeymen like 52-year-old Billy Shores, looking for redemption.

"Billy's in good shape," Skip Jones said, shrugging. "He can still take a punch."

Billy Shores stood up and lifted the front of his grey hooded sweatshirt to reveal the stomach of a younger man.

"I do 3,200 sit-ups a day," he said, letting the sweatshirt drop back down.

Shores used to spar with Marvelous Marvin Hagler, the middleweight champion who emerged from the gym that Goody and his brother, Pat, opened on Centre Street in 1969. They moved the gym over to Ward Street 25 years ago, and the city renamed the street Petronelli Way some years back, in honor of a couple of guys who helped keep Brockton on the map after Rocky Marciano put it there by knocking out Jersey Joe Wolcott in 1952 to become heavyweight champion of the world.

To those for whom boxing is more than a sport, the Petronelli gym is a shrine. It smells of sweat and dreams. It looks like something out of the movies: a scruffy wood floor, white tin ceiling, a pair of boxing rings, side by side. Title bout posters line the walls, many of them depicting Hagler, a reminder of what each boxer is training for, what's possible. The heat kicks on and off, noisily. Tiger Moore, another of Hagler's old sparring partners, beats out a staccato rhythm on one of the three heavy bags.

In what was an insult to Brockton, the World Boxing Council recently voted to put up a statue of Rocky Marciano in Boston instead of Brockton, his hometown. Boston has about as much to do with Rocky Marciano becoming champ as France does, which is nothing. A lot of people in Brockton were upset. Goody Petronelli was, too. Finally, yesterday, after Tom Menino said the statue belonged in Brockton, the WBC agreed, and in Brockton it will go - exactly where it belongs.

If anything, Brockton is poorer now than it was when Marciano was working out at the fire station on Pleasant Street, or when a skinny teenager named Marvin Hagler fled the riots in Newark and showed up at the Petronelli gym and said he wanted to box. But there are fewer kids walking in the door, climbing the 44 steps that lead to the gym on the third floor.

"These so-called tough guys, walking the streets now. They get in the ring, they find someone's always tougher," Goody Petronelli said, shaking his head. "Most kids today, they don't have the hunger."

Izzi Scott has the hunger. And lightning fast hands.

"Fastest I ever seen," Skip Jones said.

Goody Petronelli nodded in agreement.

Izzi Scott is 18 years old, a featherweight at 121 pounds, a Brockton kid who is willing to put in the work, the sweat. He looks at the Marvin Hagler posters and thinks that could be him someday.

Goody Petronelli is a patient man. His gym isn't as busy as it used to be. But it's an honorable place, where hard work is its own reward, and he can't imagine being anywhere else.

"You never know who'll come through that door," Goody Petronelli said, looking out the window into a dark, starless sky. "Could be a champion."

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com

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