Interview With Goody Petronelli, Life-Long Trainer Of Middleweight Great Marvin Hagler

boxingby Pavel Yakovlev - Fans who watch films of Marvin Hagler’s fights will notice a tall, thin cornerman attending to the middleweight champion between rounds. That individual is Goody Petronelli, Hagler’s life-long trainer and fellow Brockton, Massachusetts native. Now in his eighties, Petronelli is still involved in boxing as the manager of the Petronelli Brothers Gym, which he opened in Brockton in 1969 with his brother Pat. Interestingly, Rocky Marciano was supposed to partner with the Petronellis in owning the gym. Marciano’s death that year in a tragic plane crash, however, changed the Petronelli’s plans.

Petronelli and Hagler first met in 1969, when the quiet, distrustful 15-year-old wandered into the gym. Hagler’s family had moved from New Jersey to Brockton two years earlier, displaced by the historic 1967 Newark riots that destroyed much of their city. For several days, Hagler spoke to nobody, and did nothing except watch the fighters train. Finally Petronelli approached him and said, “do you want to learn how to fight?” Hagler replied, “that’s what I’m here for.” Eighteen years later, Hagler retired after 67 professional fights and a seven-year stint as the world’s middleweight champion. By then, Hagler had earned acclaim as one of the greatest middleweights in boxing history. Petronelli worked every amateur and professional bout fought by Hagler..

Recently, Petronelli granted ESB an exclusive interview.

ESB: Thanks for the sharing your time with ESB, Goody. Let’s start with your background. You grew up in Brockton, correct?

PETRONELLI: Yes, I went to school here. I started boxing when I was ten, eleven years old. My family was into it, including my brother Pat. Of course Rocky Marciano had a great impact on me, being from Brockton. He was a legend.

ESB: How did you get your start in boxing?

PETRONELLI: Well, we had seven boys in my family, so I had to know how to protect myself (laughs). I fought in the amateurs in local tournaments. I was in the navy, and I fought in the military. I also had around 27 fights.

ESB: Were you ever an understudy or assistant to a major trainer, when you first began training fighters yourself?

PETRONELLI: When I was a fighter my first coaches were Bill Shaughnessy and Jack McGowan, so I learned their techniques. After that, I added whatever else I gained over the years.

ESB: What is your philosophy of training?

PETRONELLI: Putting it frankly, speaking not only for myself but for other trainers as well, God didn’t create us all equal. God gave us different abilities in different areas. In boxing, some guys have a strong chin; others have no chin. Some guys have a punch; others have none. Some guys are fast; others aren’t fast. I can’t give those qualities to someone. Those abilities are either there or they are not. The trainer has to have faith in the fighter to make things work. If I think the guy doesn’t have the right things going for him, well, then I sit down and talk to him, and let him know he should find another trade. The fighter has to have the talent and the desire to start with.

ESB: Who are the best trainers in the game today, in your opinion?

PETRONELLI: (Laughs)…there are a lot of them. Freddie Roach, on the west coast, he does a good job. Emmanuel Steward, he’s good. There are a lot of good trainers out there; I can’t list them all.

ESB: What about Philadelphia? Their boxing culture is incredibly competitive. They produce a lot of great trainers, don’t they? I remember Slim Jim Robinson, Quenzell McCall, George Benton, and others.

PETRONELLI: Oh yeah, definitely. Of course, especially years ago…Philadelphia produced so many tough, excellent fighters and trainers. I remember Robinson from when I was in Philadelphia with Marvin, but we didn’t call him “Slim.” And I remember George Benton and Quenzell McCall, too.

ESB: Who would you say are the greatest trainers of all time?

PETRONELLI: (Laughs) Well, we went over a couple already. It’s a hard question to answer. All trainers have their good points and their bad points.

ESB: What can you tell us about Sam Silverman, the legendary New England boxing promoter from decades ago? Surely you worked with him a lot.

PETRONELLI: I knew him well. He was probably one of the greatest promoters. He promoted a lot of my fighters. He was a very straightforward guy; he was great. Rip Valenti used to work with him, and he was a great guy to work with also.

ESB: Eventually, Marvin Hagler emerged as a top contender, so you had to deal with major international promoters. Do you have any comments about them?

PETRONELLI: We dealt a lot with Bob Arum. We had a very good association with Arum. He was great. Very true to his word.

ESB: Aside from Marvin Hagler, what other notable fighters did you train?

PETRONELLI: (Laughs) I had lots of them. There was Tony (Tony Petronelli, Goody’s nephew). Steve Collins, the world champion…I had him from the amateurs to the pros. I had Drake Thadzi; we called him “The Nightmare” because he worked in the cemetery digging graves. I had Kevin McBride, and he’s making a comeback now. I also had Robbie Sims.

ESB: Marvin Hagler was your most accomplished fighter. When did you realize you had a future world champion on your hands? In other words, what’s the professional win that really marked Hagler as a future star?

PETRONELLI: (pauses) Well…it’s hard to say, because Marvin fought so many tough fights coming-up, and he had to win them all. But I will say that I knew he was world championship material before he even turned pro. I saw it when Marvin won the nationals here in Boston as an amateur. He fought over his weight class. He was supposed to fight at 156 lbs., but he weighed ½ lbs too much, so he moved up to 165 lbs. That was really something, seeing Marvin beat the best bigger guys. I told my brother Pat, then and there, that we had a potential world champion on our hands.

ESB: Was Hagler born in 1951 or 1954? In 1987, a rumor arose that Hagler was actually three years older than he claimed. Sugar Ray Leonard, for one, claimed Hagler was born in 1951, not 1954. Leonard claimed to know this based on his acquaintance with Hagler during the amateurs.

PETRONELLI: Marvin was definitely born in 1954. I know that for a fact.

ESB: And, of course, you had trouble finding high quality opponents for Hagler when you were moving him up the ratings. Can you comment on that?

PETRONELLI: We couldn’t get matches for him. Who the hell wanted to fight him? We had to go to other guys’ hometowns to get fights. We had to take anyone we could get. We had to bend with the flow. Let me tell you something that Joe Frazier told us. Frazier said Marvin would have trouble getting ahead because he had three strikes against him. Joe said, “One, you’re black. Two, you’re a southpaw. Three, you’re good. (laughs)”

ESB: (Laughs) Yes, I remember reading Frazier’s remarks in the magazines, back in the 1970s. As for fighting on the road, I remember Hagler going to Seattle to fight hometown favorite Sugar Ray Seales. The officials ruled the fight a draw, even though most observers believe Hagler won. That decision was joke, correct?

PETRONELLI: Of course it was. It was a joke. Marvin won that fight easily. But in the rematch, in Boston, Marvin knocked out Seales in one round.

ESB: What about Hagler’s two losses in Philadelphia, to Bobby “Boogaloo” Watts and Willie “The Worm” Monroe. I remember reading that those fights were hometown decisions. The Watts fight in particular was regarded as a robbery.

PETRONELLI: Marvin had Watts on the deck and he still lost the fight. But I don’t blame the other fighters for the bad decisions. It wasn’t their fault. It was the judges down there. I don’t know what they were thinking.

ESB: Eventually, Hagler established himself as the best of the middleweight contenders. Still, he couldn’t get a title shot. Several lower rated, less-deserving contenders were given title fights before Hagler got his chance. What was the problem: did the WBA and WBC shun Hagler, or did the top promoters not want to deal with him?

PETRONELLI: That’s a good question. I think it was a combination of both things. Eventually we had Bob Arum promoting us, but still, nobody wanted to fight Marvin. The WBA and WBC were definitely shunning Marvin…(laughs) it’s as if they thought he had a disease or something. They didn’t want to get close to him. And of course we tried to get a fight with Monzon when he was still champion, but that didn’t work.

ESB: Do you think that Hagler could have beaten Monzon?

PETRONELLI: Definitely. Marvin definitely would have beaten Monzon.

ESB: Who were the toughest middleweights in the late 1970s – Hagler’s competitors – before Hagler won the championship? I’m talking about those years when Hagler was establishing himself as the top contender.

PETRONELLI: Well, that Bennie Briscoe was a tough guy. We even brought him up here as a sparring partner after Marvin beat him in Philadelphia. Briscoe had a tough head; he cracked Marvin’s face with a head butt, opened a bad cut. Thank god I controlled the cut and convinced Marvin to box. That fight was in Philadelphia…they could have ripped Marvin off, stopped the fight on cuts even though it was a head butt. But I kept the cut under control, and Marvin outboxed Briscoe.

ESB: Eventually, after a long delay, Hagler received a title fight. That was against Vito Antuofermo in 1979. Yet another injustice occurred when that fight was ruled a draw. Most observers had Hagler winning the bout. I had it 9-5-1 in rounds for Hagler. What are your memories of this fight?

PETRONELLI: I agree with your scoring 100%. I remember after the final round, before the decision was announced, referee Mills Lane turned to me and my brother Pat, and said, “Step aside, I want to get a picture of you with me raising Marvin’s hand.” Then the decision was announced, and the referee was just as shocked as us. Antuofermo was a tough kid, but he was the receiver in that fight. He was outboxed and outpunched. We all felt really downhearted about the decision.

ESB: What was the mood in the locker room after the fight? The sense of outrage must have been incredible.

PETRONELLI: Marvin was upset, but he didn’t let it get him down. He knew what he had to do. He knew he had to climb that mountain, even though there were obstacles in the way. We had faith in each other: Pat, Marvin, and me. We called ourselves “The Triangle.” We reminded ourselves that there’s nothing stronger than a triangle. We had to continue climbing that mountain.

ESB: Many boxers who suffer repeated setbacks as a result of unfair decisions are psychologically broken by the experience. They become disgusted with the sport and lose their motivation. But Hagler was not daunted by these experiences. I think it’s amazing that he could incur these frustrations and not lose his competitive drive. What do you think?

PETRONELLI: Marvin was very tough mentally. Like I said, he knew he had to climb that mountain.

ESB: But then, finally, Hagler won the championship, knocking out Alan Minter before his hometown crowd in London. Tell me about that experience.

PETRONELLI: Let me tell you about a moment I’ll never forget. On the day of the fight, Marvin and I were in the park feeding the pigeons. I said to Marvin, “We’re in London, you know you have to knock the guy out to win.” Marvin just looked back at me and said, “I plan to.” I knew right then and there exactly how the fight would play out.

ESB: Marvin stopped Minter in three rounds, then a riot broke-out in the arena. What are your memories?

PETRONELLI: After the fight, the crowd was throwing bottles into the ring. They wanted to kill us. We had to run back to our dressing room; we left all our equipment in the ring. Then, after we left the arena, the crowd attacked our limousine. They threw bottles at the limousine and smashed the windows (laughs). But when we got back to our hotel, it was safe. The promoter even came to the hotel to apologize for the crowd’s behavior (laughs again).

ESB: Hagler held the championship for seven years before losing it to Sugar Ray Leonard in another controversial decision. What can you tell us about that?

PETRONELLI: Marvin definitely won that fight. We tried to get a return match in the worst way, but Leonard wouldn’t even talk to us. So Marvin decided to hang up his gloves. Leonard was the only fight he wanted, and he couldn’t get that fight, so he moved on.

ESB: Switching to another topic, how is the boxing industry different today, compared to the 1970s and 1980s?

PETRONELLI: Well, politics is a heck of a lot more difficult today. Also, fighters aren’t as hungry as they were years ago. We have so many different titles now; that makes a big difference. If you’re in a room, and you ask, “Who’s the champion,” twelve different guys will stand up. Twelve different titles means a fighter doesn’t have to work as hard to get a title fight. That’s what makes boxing different today.

ESB: What are your thoughts on the use of performance enhancing substances? Certainly today these substances are used more in boxing than ever before.

PETRONELLI: You’re probably right, based on what I’ve read in sports magazines. But they do blood testing, so hopefully they can pick up on it. There’s a lot of that going around in all sports now, from what I gather. They didn’t do so much of that years ago.

ESB: That’s all of my questions. Do you have any final comments to make for the fans?

PETRONELLI: (Laughs) If you’re a trainer and you get a fighter in the gym, and he’s hungry, well, you keep him hungry. Get him to go for the big one. I don’t make a judgment until I see how bad they want it (laughs). If I see it in a fighter, that hunger, I bring it out…if not, I tell him to go get a job.

Article posted on 29.05.2010

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