|Thursday, October 30, 1997|
McNeeley ready to bounce
By BOB BUCKLEY
The No. 1 locker at the South Shore Boxing Club is reserved for Peter McNeeley. It is perhaps the only place where McNeeley is still number one.
It was only 2½ years ago when Peter McNeeley was the hottest boxer in New England. The debate raged if the Medfield based heavyweight was worthy of the consideration he was about to receive. He had a professional record of 38-1, but the quality of the fighters McNeeley faced in those 39 fights was always in question. His opponents had a winning percentage of less than 50.
But nevertheless, McNeeley fit nicely into Don King's grand scheme. King's meal ticket Mike Tyson was about to be released from jail and was in need of an "opponent". The opponent had to look good on paper but not pose much threat to the former heavyweight champion of the world.
McNeeley fit the bill and much more. Tyson would have no part of the media spotlight but McNeeley gladly filled the role making television appearances with Leno, Letterman, and Larry King. It was as much fun as a guy from Medfield could possibly have and McNeeley basked in every moment of the spotlight.
But now the spotlight shines no more. McNeeley's 15 minutes of fame should have come with a warning label. The fight with Tyson lasted only 89 seconds before McNeeley's manager Vinnie Vecchione stepped into the ring and automatically disqualified McNeeley before the fight had even started. McNeeley returned to Massachusetts and did a few television commercials but his boxing career took a definite detour. He was booed before a hometown crowd at the Fleet Center in a victory over Mike Sam for the USBF heavyweight title. By the time McNeeley had celebrated the one year anniversary of his fight with Tyson, his career was on a major downward spiral. He suffered another loss to boxing immortal Louis Monaco in Denver after winning a series of fights against no-name opponents.
Soon McNeeley was out of the boxing loop and down a path of self destruction. McNeeley became fodder for the local Boson gossip columnists who did not paint a kind picture as McNeeley spent more time fighting in barrooms than he did in the ring. There were allegations that McNeeley was sent to a rehabilitation clinic in Florida that McNeeley at first denied but later acknowledged.
Pretty soon, most people stopped caring about McNeeley altogether.
"It was a pretty discouraging time," said McNeeley. "I was so used to being the life of the party but I was so out of control. I was just kidding myself about who was my friend and who wasn't."
Meanwhile, Vecchione spent his time waiting — waiting and hoping that the man that was supposed to be the bread and butter fighter of his fighting stable would get off the path self-destruction and find his way back to the South Shore Boxing Club. It was there and only there where McNeeley could find out if he is truly the boxer he has the potential to be.
"I remember the first time I saw him I knew he was something special," said Vecchione. "I knew this was a kid I could do something with. I still have those dreams but the situation is much different now."
McNeeley still has those dreams too, or so he says. He has been back in the gym since July 11, the last time he said that he tasted alcohol. He said he has turned his life around.
"I am working out seven days a week, twice a day on Monday through Friday and once on Saturday and Sunday," said McNeeley after battling with the medicine ball and doing 50 situps. "I have never felt this good before. I am back at the weight I was for Tyson [224 pounds]."
He has done enough at the South Shore Boxing Club to convince Vecchione to put McNeeley back in the ring. He is scheduled to fight Nov. 21 at the Whitman Armory against an undetermined opponent. However, it is safe to assume it will be an "opponent." There is talk that if McNeeley is successful in his November fight, he will be on target to fight undefeated Massachusetts heavyweight Najee Shaheed at the Roxy in Boston.
But that is a big "if."
"He has answered the bell every day since July 11 but I have been down this path with Peter before," said Vecchione. "I honestly don't know what to expect when I come to the gym every day. We can hope and we can pray but the only one who controls this situation is Peter."
McNeeley seems to be acutely aware of his situation. There will be no more chances for the Medfield heavyweight. Now is the time to prove that he was much more than a sideshow when Tyson got out of jail. If he is ever going to be able to prove his critics wrong, he has one small window of opportunity.
"I know there have been times I have let people down...but most of all I let myself down," said McNeeley. "But that is all in the past. My focus is on boxing and only on boxing. I don't care what other people think right now. The only way I can change people's attitudes is to do it in the ring."
This story ran on page 15 of The Medfield Suburban Press on 10/30/97