|Thursday, March 16, 1995|
McNeeley scuffles with foe at press conference
McNeeley gets his Irish up early
Medfield boxer responds to fighting words during promotion
By Rick Rendell
Worcester — It was a scene right from the WWF. Except these are real fighters who mean business, not the Hulkster and Macho Man doing a theatrical number for the sake of a television camera.
Midway through yesterday afternoon's press conference at the Clarion Suites Hotel to hype tomorrow night's Triple Crown Showdown II at the Worcester Auditorium, boxing promoter Carl "Son of Don" King introduced one of the combatants.
"The next guy...is the No. 3 ranked heavyweight contender in the world," said King in the midst of his non-stop sales pitch to the media. "He told me last night that he is an African-American..."
At this point, a drum from this fighter's entourage started beating in the background accompanied by a rhythmic chant of "Hey Botha, hey Botha." This drowned out King's voice.
The fighter who walked up and stepped to the podium was South Africa's Francois Botha. Fair-skinned with a blonde crew-cut, he looked more like a Swedish discus thrower than an African-American contender.
"Those were war drums playing there," said Botha. "I've decided it's time to declare war on the heavyweight division. I can beat anyone in the top 10. My thing is, I'm white but I can fight. A lot of other white guys are pretenders. I'm a contender. Anyone who wants to fight for the heavyweight championship of the world will have to get past the 'White Buffalo'."
"It's time to straighten out the heavyweight division because of the pathetic state it is in," continued Botha. "The person to do that is me. I want to fight them all. Bring them all on so I can knock them out. I want to prove that I'm the next heavyweight champion. 'He's white but he can fight.' That's Francois Botha."
"What about Peter McNeeley?" someone yelled out to Botha.
"He's just a pretender," Botha answered back. "I'm a contender."
A few feet away sat McNeeley, Medfield's promising up-and-coming young heavyweight of Celtic heritage and a long family boxing bloodline. McNeeley wasn't going to take this verbal slap in the face sitting down. His Irish dander up. McNeeley rose from his chair and shot back, "You come into my (expletive) hometown and badmouth me..."
Seconds later, the verbal sparring escalated into a scuffle. The microphone podium was knocked to the floor in the melee as the handlers restrained their fighters. Caught in the middle, King's PR director Michael Marley took a glancing blow to the eyebrow.
LET ME AT 'IM! — Medfield's Peter McNeeley is restrained following a spat with fellow boxer Francois Botha during a news conference yesterday in Worcester. (News Photo by Ken McGagh)
As heavyweight Larry Donald found out when Riddick Bowe sucker-punched his face via a hook with nasty intentions behind it, boxing press conference scuffles are, unlike the WWF's promos, not all fun and games.
But order was soon restored in this scuffle. The press conference resumed.
McNeeley's blood, however, was still boiling when the hyping was over.
"He's got to come here from South Africa because he can't box or move furniture down there," said McNeeley. "Last week he was kissing my ass down in Fort Lauderdale. This morning I read he's trashing me in the newspaper. In my hometown. I never said a bad word about the guy. So of course I got pissed off.
"I stood up for myself. The other guys were instigating it. Then he put his hand on me so I took a whack at him. I'm not going to sit on my ass and let the guy talk down to me. So I stood up and said if you want to knock me out start now. Instead he grabbed me by the shirt. That's the wrong thing to do. First of all, it's unsportsmanlike. Second of all, you don't put your hands on me.
"This is my hometown. You don't come into my hometown, drop a challenge and then leave."
"I'm a good heavyweight, I'm for real," said Botha, unbeaten in 32 professional fights with 18 knockouts and ranked No. 3 by both the WBC and WBA. "He's not in the same class as me. He has to prove himself if he can. There is room for only one white heavyweight."
McNeeley, 34-1 (28 KOs) and ranked 12th by the WBC, admits that he doesn't have as much experience yet as Botha. That's why Botha's insult galled him even more.
"He's three years ahead of me in the pros," said McNeeley. "He's been in the Olympic trials. He's fought internationally. He's been in the King camp the past two years fighting in the big shows. And he has to pull this?"
McNeeley and Botha will be in separate bouts on the undercard of what is truly a fine mix of local and world-class talent. It will be broadcast on Showtime.
The main event features WBA cruiserweight champion Orlin Norris against challenger and NABF champion Adolpho Washington. Washington's trainer is Brockton's Goody Petronelli, best known for once guiding Marvin Hagler to the top of the middleweight kingdom.
In the other co-feature, Italy's unbeaten Agostino Cardamone, the No. 1 contender, faces Julian Jackson, the No. 2 contender and a former world champ, for the vacant WBC middleweight championship.
Also present was longtime light heavyweight champ Virgil Hill. The North Dakotan will not fight because his challenger, Duran Williams, thought the fight was going to be held on April 1. Williams seems like an April Fool a few weeks early.
With Hill's opponent a no-show, this event has now been re-named A St. Patrick's Evening World Championship Doubleheader. Appropriately, Ireland's Olympic welterweight champion-turned pro Michael Carruth is on the undercard, too.
Botha will fight Minnesota's Brian Sargent (7-1) while McNeeley takes on South Carolina's Danny Lee Wofford, a fighter with a cannon-fodder 14-40-2 record. Wofford's biggest asset in the ring appears to be sheer durability: he has survived to see the final bell against a slew of up-and-coming heavyweights, such as Shannon Briggs, Bruce Seldon, Michael Grant and Joe Hipp. The bout will clearly be a stepping stone for the young McNeeley, whose good looks and punching power may very well position him as a box office draw in the division.
All this should set the stage for a Botha-McNeeley grudge match somewhere down the line. But not in the near future.
"I'm not going to fight that chump and risk a chance at (Mike)Tyson or (Oliver)McCall," said McNeeley. "I'll fight him in time. He's just a blown up cruiserweight with a big belly and chicken legs."
The bad feelings are there. But it wasn't simply a bar room brawl happening in a press conference.
"You know something, I loved it," said McNeeley. "It's going to sell more tickets. I know that. And I enjoyed it. It sparked me up...Things like that psyche me up."
"I just raised his value as a fighter," said Botha.
Don King Productions can certainly hype a pro boxing card as well as Vince McMahon can a tag team match. Intentionally or not.
This story ran on page 1-D of The Middlesex Daily News on 03/16/95