Heavyweight McNeeley says sobriety his toughest fight
Posted: Thu January 8, 1998 at 9:36 PM ET
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Peter McNeeley will always be remembered as the first opponent of Mike Tyson after Tyson was released from jail in 1995.
McNeeley, of Medfield, Massachusetts, would love to fight Tyson again, but says it's more important to stay clean and sober and spread the word -- for himself and the late Chris Farley.
"I'm fighting the battle, I'm fighting it every day," McNeeley said Thursday. "I'm trying to do the right thing. It's therapeutic for me to talk about my problems, it's therapeutic for me to talk about Chris Farley's problems because I'm sad and hurt by what happened."
Farley, the comedian who starred on "Saturday Night Live" and in several feature films, was found dead last month of an overdose of cocaine and morphine.
McNeeley, 29, who will face Larry Menefee in a 10-round heavyweight bout at the Sportsman's Lodge in suburban Studio City on Saturday night, got to know Farley at a drug rehabilitation center in Minnesota a little over a year ago.
"It was a gift, I considered the time I spent with him a gift, to get to know him," McNeeley said. "We were in the same unit together, me and him and 12 other guys. We were neighbors, we ate breakfast, lunch and dinner together, attended group therapy, went to meetings.
"We got to know each other inside and out. We helped each other. We had a lot of fun, we had a lot of pain. It was my first trip to rehab and I hope my last. It was his seventh or eighth. He admitted his first three were ordered by "Saturday Night Live." He didn't want to be there. He later realized he had a problem. He went to [rehab] one more [time] after we met."
Before going to rehab, McNeeley said he smoked $1,000 worth of cocaine per day for six weeks. Drugs and alcohol had been a problem for roughly 11 years, he said.
"As a college student, I was spreading myself thin," he recalled. "I was a full-time student, a full-time boxer and a part-time cocaine salesman."
McNeeley, who said he's been sober for seven months, was shocked to hear of Farley's death. And, at the same time, he wasn't surprised.
"I didn't think it was going to happen so soon," McNeeley said. "I knew he was going to die of a heart attack or a drug overdose.
"I just thought it was difficult for him because he had a tremendous self-esteem problem. He said he put on a clown's face at an early age to get people to like him. He felt that he had to because he had a poor self image because of his weight problem.
"He was a great guy, a nice guy. He had fun just being funny and making fun of himself. In reality, that was his worst enemy and his best friend because he made millions of dollars."
McNeeley believes strongly that being open with his problem is the healthiest way to go.
"I'm not alone, I know that," he said. "Get it out there, talk about it, get rid of it, let it go. There are millions out there like myself who are fighting the battle every day.
"Right now, I'm having a problem with my little brother. He hasn't chosen to admit he has a problem."
McNeeley said he was ready to fight Tyson and wasn't intimidated when the two fought in Las Vegas on August 19, 1995. The fight lasted just 89 seconds before Vinny Vecchione, McNeeley's trainer, threw in the towel.
McNeeley, 42-3 with 34 knockouts as a professional, said his inexperience played a role in the outcome, and he'd love another shot at Tyson. Before that, he hopes to face Axel Schulz and, perhaps, George Foreman.
The fight with Menefee, 10-1 with five knockouts, will be the second of a comeback for McNeeley. He won a unanimous six-round decision five weeks ago in his first fight in 16 months.
"This is the beginning," McNeeley said. "I'm very grateful to Vinny Vecchione for sticking by me. We've been like family. And my family has stuck by me. I'm very grateful for that, too."
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