|Thursday, June 24, 1999|
Hurricane warnings are
By AL BECKER
With only 10 days remaining until his latest comeback effort in the boxing ring, Medfield's Peter McNeeley was chasing a much lighter fighter around the ring last Wednesday night in the basement of the West Natick fire station.
The 213-pound McNeeley danced around and away from 132-pound Golden Gloves and Junior Olympic champion Carlos Cancel of Framingham during one round of his evening four-round session.
Despite his size and a penchant for brawling, McNeeley (45-4, 34 KOs) was quick as a cat while pursuing the lightening-fast Cancel.
But McNeeley's opponent Saturday at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas (pay-per-view, 9 p.m.) is nothing like Cancel. In fact, the 315-pound Eric "Butterbean" Esch looks like he swallowed three Cancels. And that's why McNeeley thinks speed will be so important.
"I'm at my fastest right now," said McNeeley after the four-round workout. "And this is the fastest I've ever been."
And since the Tyson fight he's been through a lot, most notoriously a serious battle with drugs and alcohol — a battle he wages every day.
"I'm coming in clean and sobor for 60 days," said McNeeley. "I've had my relapses, but this is enough time."
The hardest time for McNeeley, he said, is after the fights, when it's time to celebrate or time to ponder what went wrong. And there seems to be no worse place to spend that time than in Las Vegas.
But McNeeley is prepared.
"It doesn't matter where you are, drugs and alcohol are still there," said McNeeley. "Vegas is the city that never sleeps. And I tell you what, I'm not going to sleep."
McNeeley has prepared for the inevitable post-fight distractions by surrounding himself with people he can count on. In addition to having his managers and trainers around, he'll be with his mother, girlfriend and his girlfriend's mother. His brother Tom Jr., an Emmy award-winning producer of ESPN, will also be by his side.
He also knows, as always, he has the folks in Medfield behind him.
"I know I let a lot of people in Medfield down," said McNeeley, who is still very much a Medfield resident. "And the world isn't such a forgiving place. But there are still a lot of people behind me."
In the ring
In addition to the Butterbean/McNeeley show, the undercard touts undefeated Mia St. John, a former Playboy model, in a women's featherweight bout.
But McNeeley's fight with Butterbean might provide the most entertainment of the evening. Butterbean is the International Boxing Association Super-Heavyweight champ and is known as the King of the Four Rounders. Butterbean (42-1-1) earned his nickname during his days as a fighter in "Toughman" competitions.
McNeeley is a brawler, but not like Butterbean.
"I think it's quite apparent who's faster in this fight and who's in better physical condition," said McNeeley, who is at least 15 pounds lighter than when he went toe-to-toe with Tyson. "And I've fought the longer rounds."
From December 1997 to December 1998, McNeeley had four fights, three of six rounds and one of eight rounds. Butterbean fights only four-rounders and has been fighting his way into shape with three fights in the last eight weeks.
"He's fighting his way into shape because he can't do the road work," said McNeeley.
McNeeley, on the other hand, is running and sparring and generally working hard. In addition to his quickness, McNeeley is excited to exhibit some defense Saturday — something few people have really seen.
"I haven't had the right type of TV fights to expose that," said McNeeley. "I've always had the tag of the slow white boy. But now it seems every day I wake up I'm faster and I have better defense."
He'll need it because even McNeeley admitted after meeting Butterbean for the first time and shaking his hand in Chicago last week, that "He's pretty hard and very solid."
One punch from this mountain of a man and it could be over fast.
And it's likely if the fight is over fast, the 30-year-old McNeeley might be at the end of the road. However this is also a chance to get back to the big payday, and a chance to win back a few supporters.
"This fight is not about celebrity," said McNeeley. "It's about pride and honor."
This story ran on pages 16-17 of The Medfield Suburban Press on 06/24/99