SARNIA -- As long as there has been professional boxing, there have been fight clubs located in union halls.
The Lambton St. Clair's boxing club in Sarnia is no different.
The club is located in the basement of the Communication, Energy and Paperworkers Union in Sarnia's gritty south end.
Inside the club, on the walls, is a printed history of boxing in Sarnia. Starting down one wall, huge plastic sheets frame newspaper articles heralding the accomplishments of local ring heroes, including the club's long-time coach, and former fighter, Sylvio Fex.
Eventually, the newspaper clippings settle on a common theme, the impressive feats of the Molitor brothers, Jeremy and Steve.
At first, most of the articles and pictures are about Jeremy, but as you make your way down the wall, increasingly they become devoted to younger brother Steve, the current IBF super bantamweight champion of the world, who puts his title on the line tonight against WBA king Celestino Caballero of Panama at Casino Rama.
Jeremy started boxing first, but little Stevie, perhaps no more than seven or eight, began to follow his older brother to the club, and eventually, into the ring.
"They used to spar against each other, even though Steve was a lot smaller," Fex said this week. "And, oh boy, they used to get into it. Eventually, I would have to climb into the ring to break it up, mainly because Steve would get so angry."
The Molitor brothers were talented and tough. And also charismatic and handsome. Dark hair, perfect smiles. Hell, they looked more like a couple of precocious child actors than fighters. But fight they could and, by the late 1990s, they were household names in Canadian amateur boxing circles. And certainly in their hometown.
Inside the last plastic sheet is a full-page article from the Sarnia Observer trumpeting Jeremy's silver medal from the 1999 Pan American Games in Winnipeg, a year after he won gold at the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur. The headline says: "Molitor did Sarnia proud."
The irony is not lost on a couple of visitors to the gym.
At one time, Jeremy Molitor did make his hometown extremely proud.
Now, that pride has been replaced by anger and shame.
Jeremy is incarcerated in a Kingston-area penitentiary, six years after brutally murdering his former girlfriend, Jessica Nethery.
Jessica was stabbed 58 times and left in a locked car in a downtown Sarnia parking garage. She was 21 years old.
The murder devastated this working-class border town.
As much as the locals would like to forget what happened on May 4, 2002, it will be a long time before the emotional wounds heal.
"I believe the last homicide here was about two years ago," Sarnia mayor Mike Bradley said, when asked about the Nethery murder. "Obviously, that type of thing is very rare in this city.
"But it was the nature of the crime and the notoriety of the individual that made it so painful."
Bradley attended Nethery's funeral and never will forget how sad that time was.
"She was a lovely lady," he said.
At the far end of the Lambton St. Clair gym are posters promoting Sarnia fight cards of years past. One is from June 25, 2004, when Steve, by then a professional with a stellar 18-0 record, returned to his hometown to face Argentine journeyman Pedro Javier Torres at the Sarnia Sports and Entertainment Centre.
"It was a disaster. Nobody showed up. I lost my shirt," Molitor's long-time promoter, Allan Tremblay, said.
Sarnia Observer sports editor Dave Paul remembers about 1,500 fans attended the event at the 4,000-seat venue.
"There really wasn't much enthusiasm, I'm afraid," he said. "It was a bit hollow. A few years prior to that fight, when Jeremy was at the peak of his popularity, there was an amateur show at the same venue and it was sold out. Jeremy fought in the main event. Steve was on the undercard."
Tremblay said he knew the risks of promoting a fight featuring a Molitor in Sarnia after what happened that spring day in 2002.
"We thought we had waited a respectable amount of time," he said. "But I guess it didn't matter."
Steve Molitor, one of the greatest professionals in Canadian boxing history, never fought in his hometown again. And likely never will.
Once a favourite son, he is now a forgotten son. Sarnia has turned its back on the IBF world champion.
And perhaps worse.
"I would say 70% of the people of Sarnia would like to see him get beat (by Caballero)," Fex said.
There is a hint of sadness in Fex's voice. But also a ring of truth.
Next month, Bradley will celebrate his 20th anniversary as Sarnia's mayor. He has won seven consecutive elections.
There is a poster on the wall of his office from the Michael Moore documentary Bowling for Columbine. Bradley was interviewed in the film. He and Moore have since become friends and, in fact, when Moore, who grew up in nearby Flint, Mich., took some heat from the president of Ontario's Campus Conservatives prior to the recent federal election (Moore urged Canadians to reject Stephen Harper), Bradley made him an honorary citizen.
The mayor's office resembles the recreation room of an ardent sports fan as much as it does a place of business.
On one wall is a flag from the 2003 Masters, the year Sarnia-born golfer Mike Weir won the prestigious event.
On another wall is a framed picture of Sarnia, taken from space, presented to Bradley by former NASA astronaut Chris Hadfield, another local boy who made good on the international stage.
The Sarnia airport is named after Hadfield. A park is named after Weir. Inside his second floor office, there are pics of Bradley with other prominent Sarnia natives, including numerous sport figures.
But nowhere is there a picture of the undefeated (28-0, 11 KOs) Steve Molitor. There are no posters, no signed boxing gloves, nothing.
"This town," Bradley said, "has had a history of really being supportive of sporting figures, individually, and as teams, but there really hasn't been that connection with Steve."
Why? The murder is one reason. But much of the disconnection, Bradley said, rests on the shoulders of the boxer and his family.
"You know," the mayor said. "there's always a risk when you name something after someone who's living. But knowing Chris and Mike, I had no risk at all taking that forward, and getting the public to endorse (the naming of the airport and the park). But, again, they've continued to contribute to the community."
Both Weir and Hadfield have held charity events in Sarnia and return often. In fact, Hadfield, now the chief of International Space Station Operations at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, recently bought a cottage in the area. Steve Molitor, the mayor said, rarely returns to his hometown, even though his dad, Mike, still lives here.
Bradley is asked, given what happened six years ago, if Steve could reconnect with his hometown. It's a tough one for the mayor, who admires what Molitor has accomplished in the ring and certainly harbours no ill will toward the 28-year-old. But there's something in the way Steve talks about his brother that makes it difficult for the mayor, and the town, to forgive. Like when Steve refers to Jeremy as "my inspiration."
"One of the concerns I had during the time of the trial, and I voiced it then, was that too much attention was paid to Jeremy and not Jessica Nethery," Bradley said. "And personally, there's a bit of a discomfort factor every time I read about Steve, when he talks about his bond with Jeremy. I realize they're blood brothers and all that, but ..."
With that, his voice trials off.
"I do really wish the Molitor family would acknowledge in some way the issue of violence against women," Bradley said, after a minute of reflection. "That would be a start."
It's a cold, overcast day in Sarnia. The town is still digging its way out of the first snowstorm of the season from the night before.
There's a hint a melancholy in the air.
And that will not likely change tonight when local boy Steve Molitor defends his world title.