|Thursday, June 9, 1994|
Lunching with one champ, fighting another
McNeeley meets Ali, will face Williamson June 24 at Foxboro
By LARRY BEAN
Peter McNeeley may indeed be arriving as a legitimate world heavyweight contender. He's fighting a former world champion later this month. And recently, the Hurricane did lunch with Muhammad Ali.
And during the lunch, McNeeley enjoyed an honor bestowed upon some of the greatest fighters of all time: He was insulted by Ali.
McNeeley, his father, Tom, and his mother, Nancy, were among two dozen people who attended a luncheon with Ali a couple weeks ago in Newton. The event was held in honor of the Champ, who would receive an honorary degree from Mount Ida College the following day.
"My father was talking to Ali and he brought me over and said, 'This is my son. He's 27-1,'" said McNeeley.
"Ali looked at me for a second, then said 'Twenty-seven and one, huh, you must be the next Great White Dope.'
"I told him that I'd take that as a compliment coming from him," said McNeeley, who puts that 27-1 record on the line Friday, June 24 at Foxboro Park against former WBC light heavyweight champion J.B. Williamson.
Nancy McNeeley is a professor at Mount Ida. And Tom McNeeley first crossed Ali's path nearly 25 years ago, when McNeeley was the boxing commissioner for Massachusetts and Ali was looking for a place to fight.
Ali was trying to resume his boxing career after being stripped of his heavyweight championship title three years earlier for conscientiously objecting to the Vietnam War draft.
At the time, no commissioner in any state would grant Ali a boxing license, except McNeeley. He said it was OK for Ali to fight in Massachusetts. Though he had the green light in this state, Ali eventually returned to the ring in another state that had no boxing commission.
"My father believed that someone was innocent until proven guilty, and no one had proven that Ali was guilty of a crime," said the Hurricane. "Ali has always been grateful to him for that."
Like most people who meet the 53-year-old Ali now, McNeeley said the Parkinson's disease from which he suffers has slowed the Champ's body but not his wit. And to remind the lunch crowd that, at times, he can still float like a butterfly, Ali performed a levitation act on his way out the door.
"As he was leaving the room, he told everyone, 'Watch my feet, watch my feet,'" said McNeeley. "Then he lifted himself off the ground a couple inches. It was like he was [messing] with you just to show that he's not [messed] up."
But with shaking hands, a face that seldom shows any expression and slowed speech, Ali is obviously messed up. And many in the medical profession say it's because of something he and McNeeley have in common — boxing. McNeeley, whose grandfather died of Parkinson's disease, doesn't necessarily doubt that conclusion.
"I see diseases like Parkinson's, or cancer or Alzheimer's as being genetic. You're born with them," said McNeeley. "I believe he would have gotten Parkinson's, but boxing probably did speed up the process. He's too young to be suffering from it.
"But he's not punchy. He's not punch drunk. He did stay in the game a little too long, but for the first 15 years, he didn't get hit by anybody."
The next fight, the next level
Like Ali, McNeeley has seldom been hit in the early stages of his career. And he hopes it stays that way through the June 24 bout, when he takes on Williamson, who held the light heavyweight title in 1985-86, after Michael Spinks moved on to the heavyweight division. Williamson, from Indianapolis, brings a 38-8 record into the scheduled 10-rounder, which headlines the eight-fight card.
"This is a significant step up in competition for me," said McNeeley, who won his last three matches in a total of four rounds. "This is the next echelon of opponents."
"This is a definite step up, no question," said Vin Vecchione, McNeeley's manager. "This guy [Williamson] knows how to fight."
McNeeley fought on the same card as Williamson in Arkansas in early April.
"He's very tough," said Vecchione. "He's very slippery and he can take a hell of a punch. That shows all the years of experience he has. But he's reached his peak and now Peter's the young, hungry kid coming up. And Peter has to knock him off."
"Peter's been dying to prove himself to people around here, and I've been holding him back. I've held him back long enough and now he's ready to explode on the national scene."
The fight will take place on an off-night for World Cup soccer at the adjacent Foxboro Stadium, so plenty of parking will be available. Tickets for the fight are $50 ringside and $20 general admission. They are available in Medfield at Casabella's Pizza, Palumbo's Liquors, the American Legion Post or by calling the Hurricane Hotline at 359-****.
This story ran on page 21 of The Medfield Suburban Press on 06/09/94