|Thursday, April 28, 1994|
McNEELEY COMBINES POWER WITH PATIENCE
By LARRY BEAN
"Hurricane" Peter McNeeley
Before he answers any questions, Vinnie Vecchione lights up a cigar in the corner office at the South Shore Boxing Club in Whitman. The boxing manager/trainer has been kept waiting, but he's still happy to talk.
Vecchione doesn't mind waiting.
"As you can see, I'm a health freak," says Vecchione, as he takes a puff from one of his Arturo Fuentes.
The walls of the office, on the top floor of a converted shoe factory, are covered with photos of Vecchione's star pupil — Peter McNeeley, who tops the card for Saturday night's show at the Whitman National Guard Armory.
"That shot there is from Peter's first professional fight," Vecchione says, pointing to a photo on the wall to his right. "That was at BU stadium August 23 of '91. Now August 23 of this year, he'll have three completed years as a professional fighter. The time element isn't there. He needs two more years of seasoning before he's a real 10-round, hard-nosed fighter.
His amateur career was brief. He only fought 19 or 20 fights. And I think eight or nine ended in the first round. Now that doesn't give you very much experience."
Vecchione, with a stocky build topped by a scalli cap that never leaves his head, speaks softly — not in the typical tone of a boxing manager. But he speaks confidently.
It's a slow night at the gym. McNeeley, showering in the locker room after his nightly workout, is the only fighter still here. Vecchione will close up the gym for the night and go home just as soon as he's done talking.
He's answering the same questions he's heard dozens of times before — the ones that start with: Yeah, McNeeley is 26-1, but...
Still, Vecchione is in no hurry to wrap up the conversation. He's taking his time.
"Everything in life is positioning," says Vecchione. "Let's take Wade Boggs for example. He was down in the minors for five years. If it wasn't for Carney Lansford getting hurt at third base, Boggs would have spent the rest of his life in the minors. He got in position. He got a shot with the Red Sox. And the rest is history.
"God blessed this kid with punching power. And the thing that we have to do is work with him to bring him along gradually enough so that we position him so that he's a well-conditioned all-around fighter with enough season. And that's going to take five years and it's only been 2½ years."
McNeeley has the punching power, but Vecchione has been blessed with patience. The combination could eventually land them both a big payday.
"The bottom line with a young fighter like Peter McNeeley is the rushing problem. Everybody wants to rush him," says Vecchione. "People are always asking me, 'When is he going to fight this guy?' I've already turned down a couple big matches in which there was money involved — that's what we're in this for. We are professionals. But the thing is, he's just not ready for those fighters yet."
Other fighters at the boxing club might not be so cautious if they were handling McNeeley's career.
Franco DiOrio, who fights Hector Camacho Tuesday night in Mississippi, isn't one of the regulars at the club, but he was in Whitman for a training session last week. He's stepping up to the big time, and he doesn't think McNeeley should be too far behind him. DiOrio says the better the competition, the better McNeeley will get.
"He's young," says DiOrio. "He's still got a lot to learn. He's still got to fight the big fighters, the big name fighters and see what he's got to offer. And if he does well, you never know. He might be the Great White Hope.
"He's got a tremendous punch. He's got the intestinal fortitude, the heart, the desire," adds DiOrio. "He has it all. But he just has to get a lot more experience. The experience comes with fighting better fighters, the more experienced fighters, and beating them. And that's how he's going to advance to another level. I can see he has what it takes to do it."
Danny Conway has just finished sparring three rounds with McNeeley. Both fighters were wearing headgear, and McNeeley's gloves had some extra padding, but twice Conway was forced to take a knee.
"Peter's got it all," says Conway. "He's got the tools. He's got the power. He gonna go places, Peter. I think he'll go real far. If they give him the shot, he'll go places."
McNeeley may be a professional boxer, but right now, he isn't making much money in the ring. The cash offers, like the $150,000 deal to fight Tommy Morrison last year, have been tempting.
"The money has been a joke," said McNeeley. "I've fought my last two matches (in Arkansas and North Carolina) for next to nothing. And most of the fights on the way up, I sold tickets to get my pay."
Still, McNeeley has no complaints with the way Vecchione has guided his career.
"You've got to have a good manager," he says. "If you don't have a good manager you're all done in this game. This game is really a chess match between trainers and managers and fighters. They're dealing bodies and it's like next, next... They just want to see good fights. And a lot of local talent gets ruined before they even get to the brink of national attention."
Last time McNeeley fought in the Boston area it was for the New England heavyweight championship. He thoroughly dominated 6-foot-10, 285-pound Stanley Wright for seven rounds but suffered the first and only loss of his career when a fight-ending gash opened up over McNeeley's left eye in the eighth round.
Vecchione accepts the blame for that loss.
"Maybe his manager made a mistake. Maybe I thought Peter could handle somebody that size. But he certainly did handle him for 7½ rounds. Peter really demolished him with a broken nose and cracked ribs.
"I mean if Peter McNeeley didn't sustain a cut over his eye that took 40 stitches to close, we can safely assume that he would have gone on to win the New England heavyweight championship.
"But he's young. He's only 25 years old. I'm sure there's going to be some blemishes on his record. But this is the type of kid who could pull off a major, million-dollar score."
As long as he doesn't mind waiting.
This story ran on page 15 of The Medfield Suburban Press on 04/28/94