|Sunday, October 4, 1992|
McNeeley packing some punch
Promising Medfield fighter pouring his heart, fists into his craft
By Lenny Megliola
The confidence rushes from "Hurricane" Peter McNeeley. Just erupts from him. Monday night, staring back at a cable TV camera at the Vista International Hotel in Waltham, before his fight with Van Dorsey, McNeeley tells the interviewer, "You aren't going to see much of a fight because he ain't gonna last long."
Supreme confidence. All the better to conceal the scars of inexperience, of insecurity. The words are a bandage. A convenient bandage.
McNeeley is right this time. Dorsey lasts about as long as a TV commercial. McNeeley, a 23-year-old heavyweight, knocks trial horse down once, twice, and forget it. They stop the bad joke 62 seconds after it starts. McNeeley is now 10-0. Seven of the fights never saw round 2. That would puff a guy up, wouldn't you say?
Not so fast. Vin Vecchione, McNeeley's trainer and manager the last two years, is bringing his Great White Hope along very slowly. There are no familiar names on McNeeley's bottom 10 list.
Vecchione has been good for McNeeley. In a more private moment, away from the cameras and gladhanders, the Medfield resident, son of former heavyweight contender Tom McNeeley, is more self-revealing. He'd gone to see Vecchione one day at the South Shore Boxing Club because he needed help.
"I was a strong, tough kid," says McNeeley. "But I didn't have technique. I didn't know how to fight."
He would worry about that, and it would send his blood pressure into outer space. Like the night of his first pro fight, at BU's Nickerson Field.
"It was scary," he says. "I was tense. My blood pressure was off the board. So I went out and knocked the guy out in 50 seconds."
The Scared & The Stiff.
"He's a fierce fighter," says Vecchione. "I have to lock the gym door to keep him out. This is just something he wants in his life. He's very focused."
But some parts are crude still. "I'm trying to teach a young, tough heavyweight how to box," says Vecchione. "He's so offensive-minded. He didn't care about defense at all. He's a puncher. He just wants to go out there and explode.
"It was 50-50 that he'd knock you out or get hurt himself. He's a helluva prospect, but I'm in no real hurry with him. We're in it for the long haul."
It is obvious what Vecchione sees. A good-looking Boston Irish heavyweight, a ticket seller, a crowd pleaser.
"By St. Patrick's Day he's got a chance to be 15-0," says Vecchione. "I see Peter McNeeley filling Boston Garden some night. In two or three years there's going to be a new Garden. He'll be just about ready then."
The young brawler needs Vecchione's guidance. McNeeley's always needed that from someone. In 1985 he'd started out at the Natick Boxing Club, but by his senior year at Medfield High he was adrift.
"I was getting into extracurricular activities with friends that weren't conducive to boxing," says McNeeley. That's when his father stepped in.
McNeeley went off to Bridgewater State College where he never met a beer he didn't finish. "I was getting bloated," says McNeeley. "I was disgusted with myself."
When he had his first amateur fight, in Medford's Hormel Stadium, he was TKO'd in the first round. "I really didn't know how to fight," he says now. "I started questioning myself. That happens, when you embarrass yourself."
He says he spent five years at Bridgewater but he has no job, and he's certainly not making any dough in the ring yet. Only chump change so far.
My last job was as a painter," says McNeeley. "I painted tenements in Boston. Basically, I've been a laborer all my life."
That life has stared to change. He is in great shape, 211 pounds well distributed over his 6-2 frame. He's undefeated. He's focused. Vecchione seems to be the right guy at the right time for McNeeley. That day he went to see Vecchione for the first time, he went with an attitude.
"I was untrusting, apprehensive of Vinnie. I was told I might be used as a sparring partner. But he took care of me. He gave me a couple of bucks. I was going to college. I was broke. We developed a relationship."
He needed someone like Vinnie to balance his relationship with his father. "My father and I are a lot alike," says the son. "We're both aggressive and stubborn. We don't agree on a lot of things but we love each other a lot. He's my best friend. I can talk to him any time about anything. He's an inspiration to my career."
The father often works the kid's corner on fight night, but in the day-to-day grind of the business, McNeeley needed another voice. And he heard Vinnie.
Peter McNeeley didn't know what his father did for a living until one day he happened to be snooping around the attic. "I was 10 or 11," says McNeeley. "I found a magazine, Sports Illustrated, and my father was on the cover. I was awestruck. I didn't even know he'd been a fighter."
Fought Floyd Patterson for the heavyweight championship of the world, kid. Got stopped, but no one ever had an easy night against Tom McNeeley.
When they got around to casting Rocky V Peter McNeeley had two screen tests in New York for a major role. "I was 6-2, 200 pounds, a white kid, 21 years old, could fight" says McNeeley. "I fit the specifications perfectly."
But the part of Tommy Gunn went to Tommy Morrison instead. McNeeley says now, "I'm not an actor, I'm a fighter. But it was a great experience."
McNeeley is scheduled to fight again Oct. 21 at the Westin Hotel. Vecchione wants his prize bull to step up to eight-rounders. He will not live by one-round KO's.
"He's a tough, tough fighter, but still not a boxer," says Vecchione. "Even when he hits 'em in the ribs, they go down sometimes. In the fight game you're either a boxer or a puncher. Peter's strictly a puncher. No matter what he throws, a jab, a hook, he hits with power."
But quality fighters will be able to defend against that stuff, and then McNeeley will have to fight. To think. It can't always be all or nothing every night.
He knows that, even though the impulse remains. Kill with the first shot.
"I want to take this as far as I can," says McNeeley. "But I'm not afraid to say I'm a young, immature heavyweight. I'm going to take a slow boat to China. I'm a baby in this game. I only had 21 amateur fights. I'm in no rush."
He has left the books and the beer and the paintbrushes behind.
"He trains six days a week," says Vecchione. "He's boxing full-time. He's got no other job."
He's got the looks. Can he deliver the goods? St. Paddy's night at the Garden awaits the answer.
This story ran on page 1D of The Middlesex Daily News on 10/04/92