|Wednesday, June 22, 1994|
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON
Two generations of fighting Irishmen:
Peter McNeeley is following in the footsteps of his father
By Timothy Flaherty
Tom McNeeley was growing up in "Greasy Village," the section of Cambridge that he remembers as a young teenager. He was sometimes ridiculed as being pudgy as a child. Make no mistake about it, he was big for his age.
Today he has more a quality of stature that has stayed with him as an adult and former heavyweight contender now in his mid-50's. When reminiscing about his childhood, a certain twinkle comes over those Irish green eyes. There is that endearing grin that exudes fond memories.
Sometimes the Irish have been perceived as the protector of a community, the police, the overseers, the people in charge. Those qualities would describe the young Tom McNeeley, growing up in the early 1950's. He would never look for trouble as a kid, but on the mean streets of Cambridge, he would always find a way of dealing with adversity in his own way.
If there was an individual who had committed a crime against the community, Tom and his friends had their own way of handling the matter. The culprit didn't go to trial or court; he went before a human guantlet, and that was that. No matter how you looked at it, the offender never came back to live at "Greasy Village."
When there was trouble from other neighborhood teens, most often the matter was settled with fists rather than with any serious, violent overtones. There were no knives, guns, or clubs — just bare knuckles.
In further discussing his boxing career, Tom McNeeley gleefully mentioned that he had been "fighting since he came out of his mother's womb." You name the youth organization and Tom fought for it; The Boys Club in both Charlestown and South Boston.
There were different amateur shows and religious organizations like Catholic Youth Organization (CYO). At 13 years, Tom McNeeley moved to Arlington, where he attended Arlington High and then on to Michigan State on a football scholarship.
All the while, in the back of his mind, he was really attending Michigan State so that he could continue to sharpen his boxing skills. This was Tom's first love, and admittedly his primary motive for attending MSU. However, tragedy was to befall the Michigan State boxing team.
A young boxer, while in a typical sparring session, took a punch to the temple and died. Immediately afterward, the university banned boxing for good. Tom dropped out of college after his sophomore year. Thus, his football scholarship came to an end as well.
In 1961, Tom's record was 23-0, almost identical to what his son Peter's is now.
Before his title bout with then-champion Floyd Patterson, Tom remembers the lonely nights spent in London, in Paris, and, of course, the old Madison Square Garden in New York City. In those days, Tom was only 24 years old, and there was idle time on his hands. London could be especially dreary on a foggy night. And Tom was also thinking about his wife, Nancy, back home in Medfield.
When he fought Floyd Patterson in 1961, Tom was the sixth-ranked heavyweight in the world. He was a giant of a man. Even now when speaking with him, one is conscious of his massive physique.
When he fought Patterson, Tom managed to knock him down once in the third round. Tom McNeeley remembers hitting Patterson on the left forehead. Patterson had been ducking successfully for three rounds, and then Tom hit him with a solid right hand. Patterson went down for a mandatory 8-count.
The crowd went wild, and everyone was on their feet. People back in the town of Medfield went electric with excitement. However, Patterson did get up to beat Tom McNeeley that night by a knockout. The local kid had that brief moment of glory and fame. He had nearly upset the then-heavyweight champion of the world. McNeeley had almost become the new heavyweight champion himself.
Tom McNeeley retired from the boxing ring in 1967. He is now casting a watchful eye over the boxing career of his son "Hurricane" Peter McNeeley. His son's record is a very impressive 27-1. Last spring, Peter McNeeley fought Rutland, Vermont's Marc Machain. For each fighter, the event was billed as a rivalry out of "Pugsville."
To others, after the dramatic fight, Peter McNeeley had achieved his rite of passage. The Machain fight did a great deal to silence Peter's critics. Machain was billed as a tough guy. He had fought Paul Poirier for the New England heavyweight championship two year earlier and lost by a narrow margin. He was now fighting Peter McNeeley to re-establish himself as a bona fide contender. Both fighters were at the crossroads of their boxing careers. Both now were living in Heartbreak Hotel. Only one fighter could emerge victorious.
Peter is a handsome young man. He is built like a bronze Adonis, with brawny, lengthy arms, rugged legs, and the full neck of a pro-football player. There is no excess weight on his body, just lean and mean. McNeeley will never recommend to a fighter to lift weights. He subscribes to the theory that you build the body by working it in the gym. It is a theory that has proven true for Peter McNeeley.
Marc Machain gave Peter a chance to gauge his skills as a heavyweight. The seven rounds that transpired were exciting and thrilling to say the least.
In the seventh of eight scheduled rounds, McNeeley had a battered Machain against the ropes in his own corner. The onslaught was predictable and merciful. Hard, rapid combinations finished Machain, the tough guy champion. He was crumpled in his corner, signed, sealed and delivered, compliments of one Peter McNeeley. He was immediately congratulated by his fight team and by his manager, Vinnie Vecchione. It was Vinnie who discovered young Peter McNeeley at the Petronelli gym in Brockton. Vinnie refers to Peter as "the best young prospect I've seen in years." Since 1990, their relationship has become a very close one. Vinnie Vecchione runs the South Shore boxing gym in Whitman.
Under Vinnie's guidance, Peter McNeeley's raw talent became polished and well-refined, with the power of an unstoppable, irrepressible juggernaut. Peter is quick to give Vecchione a great deal of the credit of his success. Peter has ascribed to the work ethic, very devotedly training six days a week.
If Joe Louis was referred to as "The Brown Bomber," then Peter McNeeley would have to be called "The Bronze Bomber." His style of boxing is reminiscent of Joe Louis's as well. Peter is a very heavy hitter, with an arsenal of punches that would make even veteran fighters enviable. By far, his most devastating boxing weapon is the body punch. Peter has dropped many an opponent with this one punch.
His amateur career started in 1987, after winning the Golden Gloves. His record as an amateur was 15-6. He shared both wins and losses with highly-touted heavyweights Bobby Harris and James Johnson. Johnson, in fact, who was the number one ranked amateur in the country when Peter knocked him out in their first bout. When Peter left the amateurs, he knew that he had plenty of family heritage, strength and guts. He also knew that he lacked guidance, management and training.
Vinnie Vecchione found Peter in 1990, and needed him for sparring with Paul Poirier, another heavyweight contender from Brockton. At that time, Vinnie had been out of boxing for 10 years, and Paul Poirier had been out of the sport for 15 years. It was over the next 10 month period that Peter and Vinnie's professional relationship began.
Since winning the Machain fight, the "Hurricane" has won eight of his nine decisions, the wins all in dramatic fashion — either by a knockout or a unanimous decision. He is now preparing to fight former World Boxing Council champion J.B. Williamson Friday night at Foxboro Stadium.
All of the local fight fans as well as the rest of the boxing world and establishment are waiting and looking on with anticipation.
If the young McNeeley "can talk the talk, and walk the walk," and continues to demonstrate his superior boxing skills as a proven heavyweight, then his 28th victory will go down in the record books.
This story ran on page 38 of The Dedham Daily Transcript on 06/22/94