|Saturday, August 7, 1993|
McNeeley's career ready to take off
By Bob Buckley
It is easy to say that boxing is in Peter McNeeley's blood. The family connection to the sport is part of his birthright. His grandfather, Tom McNeeley Sr., was on the first fight card ever at the Boston Garden and father, Tom McNeeley, was the New England heavyweight champion and fought Floyd Patterson in 1961.
It is an impressive family tree and one would think it would be a natural progression for the young McNeeley to follow in the footsteps and head for the ring.
But things never work out that way. There have been a number of impediments along Peter McNeeley's way.
"When I was little, I'd watch fights on TV and read biographies about all the great fighters," said McNeeley after a workout at the South Shore Boxing Club in Whitman. "I dreamed about boxing but never got around to really get into the sport. I tried it both in junior high and high school but never seemed to get it together."
McNeeley has it together now.
The South Shore Boxing Club is one of the fastest growing boxing groups on the Eastern seaboard and McNeeley is its primetime boy. He celebrates his second anniversary in professional boxing this month and has fought 19 times.
He has tasted victory each time.
He also has caught the attention of those in the upper echelon of boxing. The Tommy Morrison camp made a $150,000 offer to McNeeley camp last month and was promptly turned down.
But critics persist. Questions follow McNeeley about the quality of his 19 opponents and the progress his career has taken. McNeeley has seldom fought outside of New England and has yet to be in a fight that has gone into double digit rounds.
Why, though, would a fighter turn down a chance to take a step into primetime like the Morrison people offered?
It's time, critics say, for McNeeley to join the big time.
He would be the first to agree.
"I had 19 fights in the first 23 months of my career," said McNeeley. "I can't complain with anything so far. I know I have to step up (the competition). I had a late start in my career and a heavyweight matures later than other boxers. I know my time will come."
McNeeley's people share his dream. A contender for the heavyweight crown can turn a struggling boxing club in small-town America into the club where everyone knows your name. But long before Don King makes a call to the 617 area code, there is a long road to travel.
"We have decided on the direction that his career will go," said Cliff Phippen, director of the South Shore Boxing Club. "A heavyweight matures during a four-year period. We want to bring Peter along at that pace. It's senseless to throw him into something he may not be ready to handle."
McNeeley's boxing career did not start in high school, but he was not exactly a couch potato in those golden years, as he played football all four years at Medfield High.
He attended Bridgewater State College but did not play football in his freshman year. He admits he was not the most active of people during this time frame and after a while the inactivity started to drive him up the wall. He finally went to the Natick Boxing Club, not with the intention of becoming the next heavyweight champion but to lose some weight and tone his body.
Two months later, he was the headliner for an amateur fight card at Holman Stadium that was broadcast on NESN. A little exercise session turned into the start of a new career. It was a career that did not have a glorious start.
"I lost in the first round," said McNeeley. "It was really a down time for me. My friends and family said I couldn't follow in my father's footsteps. But I continued to plug away through the amateur ranks."
Plugging away eventually paid dividends which included a novice Golden Gloves title, four appearances in the Golden Gloves, a place and victory on Team USA in a boxing extravaganza against Team Canada and a split with highly touted heavyweight Bobby Harris from Worcester.
But McNeeley admittedly lacked direction until Vinnie Vecchione, his current manager, came into his life.
"I knew (current New England heavyweight champion) Paul Poirier and I was sparring with him when I met Vinnie," said McNeeley. "He told me he saw some raw talent and thought he could help me. I finished school (graduating from BSC in 1991), came back to the gym and turned professional in August (1991)," said McNeeley.
His first professional fight was at Boston University before only a handful of people. The size of the crowd didn't matter to McNeeley, who had a better start at a professional career than he did in his amateur career. The wins have come consistently for the past two years, but McNeeley knows he probably wouldn't be an undefeated heavyweight without some help.
"Vinnie and Cliff have brought me along slowly but surely," said McNeeley. "Vinnie broke me down as a fighter, got me to move my head and work on defense, defense, defense. I pick off punches much better now than I ever did and I feel comfortable with my footwork."
McNeeley has the fundamentals down but there were other aspects of the fight game the boys at SSBC had to polish.
"For my first four years, I was stubborn, doing more of my own thing," said McNeeley. "I was satisfied with just being a sparring partner, but I picked up a lot of bad habits.
"Vinnie turned my career and my life around. People who saw me fight before can't believe what they see now. It's like two completely different people, two completely differnt fighters."
McNeeley has increased his weight from 192 pounds in his professional debut at BU to a current weight of 219 pounds.
"But I'm much stronger and faster and my stamina is better," he adds. "After so many years of stagnation, I feel I am improving every day."
So the stage is set. McNeeley's offer from the Morrison camp will not be the last major offer to come his way. He is scheduled to headline the Whitman Armory card on August 14, followed by a Sept. 10 date at Wonderland and another fight later in September.
From there, he will be on a course to fight once a month, with the opponents being stronger, quicker and, perhaps more importantly, richer than McNeeley has seen before. McNeeley is confident and he has the confidence of the people who work with him on a daily basis.
"There is no question he wants this," said Phippen. "He's the first to get to the gym and the last to leave six nights a week. Some guys give that type of effort for a month here and a month there. McNeeley's been doing it for two years. There is no doubt his time is going to come."
This story was published on Page 9 of The Brockton Enterprise on 08/09/93.