|Saturday, January 10, 1998|
McNeeley fights back
By VINCE KOWALICK
STUDIO CITY — "Hurricane" Peter McNeeley's 15 minutes of fame lasted exactly 89 seconds, although many consider his stint in the spotlight an embarrassment.
McNeeley, a two-fisted, journeyman heavyweight, lasted only a half-round against Mike Tyson in a much-anticipated 1995 bout in Las Vegas, Tyson's first after being released from a three-year prison term.
An overmatched but stimulated McNeeley charged at Tyson, missing with a flurry of wild punches before being knocked down after eight seconds.
McNeeley jumped to his feet and the fighters continued at a fast and furious pace. Less than two minutes later, Tyson landed a solid uppercut that dropped and dazed McNeeley.
In a controversial finish, Vinnie Vecchione, McNeeley's manager and lead cornerman, leaped into the ring, resulting in McNeeley's disqualification.
McNeeley earned $540,000 for his effort. But respect has been more difficult to obtain for the 29-year-old fighter from Medfield, Mass.
Still a household name because of the Tyson fight, McNeeley, 42-3 with 34 knockouts, is on the comeback trail following a tumultuous two years filled with negative publicity and substance abuse.
McNeeley will fight Larry Menefee, 10-1 with five knockouts, in an eight-round main event tonight at the Sportsmen's Lodge.
"It was the greatest experience of my lifetime and I wouldn't trade it for anything," McNeeley said of fighting Tyson. "Obviously, it had its dividends and its drawbacks.
"It wasn't until after the Tyson fight, with all the negativity and the money and the fame and people coming after me...that it became too difficult to be Hurricane Peter McNeeley."
A record-breaking pay-per-view audience of 1.5 million subscribers felt cheated by the Tyson-McNeeley fight, a fiasco that further tarnished boxing's image.
Vecchione said he stopped the fight to protect his fighter from serious injury.
Vecchione, who remains in McNeeley's corner, said McNeeley has put the Tyson fight behind him.
"We're going to move on from that," Vecchione said. "After all he's been through, he's much older, more mature. He sees things more realistically."
"The Tyson experience," as McNeeley refers to the ordeal, ultimately rocked him like a hurricane. McNeeley instantly became the butt of jokes in bars, barber shops and monologues on late-night television. Being recognized in public became a problem.
In one incident, McNeeley was arrested in Boston after allegedly hitting a bar patron over the head with a bottle.
"A kid came after me and I went after him," McNeeley said. "I reacted poorly. I got a lot of bad press over that and it hurt me, mentally and physically.
"A lot of it was things I brought on myself and a lot was things where I was treated unfairly by the press, by the local media in Boston. It was the negativity about the fight being stopped, the negativity about me not being the fighter they thought I should have been — which I know I am.
"All these things started to happen at once and I really started going for the knockout punch with booze and drugs."
McNeeley's downward spiral led to a $1,000-a-day crack-cocaine habit, plus alcohol and marijuana abuse. He fueled his addiction by taking up residence in a crack house in Brockton, Mass.
McNeeley began abusing alcohol while in junior high school. The son of Tom McNeeley, who fought Floyd Patterson for the heavyweight title in 1961, McNeeley gravitated toward boxing, which gave him reason to remain sober for extended periods.
"Boxing has always been my savior," McNeeley said. "What I'd do is, get ready for a fight and then celebrate a victory, or mourn a loss, with drugs.
"It was a process that tortured the body and mind for so many years. I was clean before the Tyson fight for about five months. After the fight, I took out my frustrations with booze and drugs. I had to come to admit that I have a problem."
McNeeley's addiction led him to a stay in a Minnesota drug-rehabilitation clinic in late 1996. Among his fellow patients was comedian Chris Farley, who died last month of a heart attack.
McNeeley looked impressive in winning a six-round unanimous decision over Doug Davis in his last fight on Dec. 6.
He is dedicating tonight's fight to Farley.
"The most important thing for me is taking my life back," McNeeley said. "And I'm achieving that now."
This story ran on pages C9-C10 of The Los Angeles Times on 01/10/98