|Saturday, June 26, 1999|
ON THE REBOUND
McNeeley back from depths
By Ed Schuyler
BIG OPPORTUNITY: Heavyweight Peter McNeeley of Medfield raises his arms during his weigh-in Thursday in Las Vegas. McNeeley fights Eric 'Butterbean' Esch tonight. (Photo courtesy of Tom Casino/SET)
LAS VEGAS — Johnny Tapia is touched by Peter McNeeley's ordeal following his ridiculed loss to Mike Tyson in 1995.
"A year after I fought Mike Tyson I was sitting in a crack house looking for rocks that weren't there," McNeeley said. "Looking for ghosts that weren't there."
"I cried," Tapia said yesterday of McNeeley's description of life after Tyson. McNeeley was disqualified when his manager jumped into the ring and stopped the fight after 89 seconds.
Tapia, a fighter at the top, knows what life is like at the bottom.
The WBA bantamweight champion's father was murdered before he was born and his mother died violently when he was 8. Then there was the cocaine and alcohol that led to numerous arrests, apparently ruining a promising boxing career.
At the end of 1990, Tapia's record was 21-0-1. He didn't fight again until 1994 after getting his life back together with the help of Teresa Chavez, his future wife and manager.
The 32-year-old Tapia (46-0-2) of Albuquerque, NM, won the WBO junior bantamweight title in 1994 and added the IBF junior bantam championship in 1997.
Tapia relinquished those titles last year and won the WBA 118-pound championship, which he will defend against Paulie Ayala (27-1, 12 knockouts) of Fort Worth, Texas.
The bout will be the second half of a pay-per-view championship double-header Saturday night at Mandalay Bay.
In the first title fight, WBC lightweight champion Stevie Johnson (26-1, 14 knockouts) of Denver will box Aldo Rios (20-0, 4 knockouts) of Argentina.
This will be Johnson's first fight since he outpointed Cesar Bazan on Feb. 27 and regained the 135-pound title he had lost on points to Bazan on June 13, 1998.
McNeeley, who has straightened out his life, will fight in a four-round bout against 311-pound Eric Esch, who fights as "Butterbean, the King of the Four-Rounders." To the surprise of many, it is this fight that is generating most of the buzz for the card.
McNeeley appeared to be in excellent physical condition Thursday evening, weighing in at a trim 212 pounds. Standing 6-foot-2, McNeeley has a one inch height advantage over his opponent, but the weight advantage clearly belongs to Butterbean: Esch officially outweighed McNeeley by an astounding 99 pounds!
Butterbean (42-1-1, 33 knockouts), of Jasper, Ala., will get $60,000. McNeeley (45-4, 34 knockouts), of Medfield, Mass., will get $30,000.
The 30-year-old McNeeley thanked his parents and manager Vinnie Vecchione for helping him back.
"I've come back from the depths," he said at a news conference. "I'm a warrior and I'm going to prove (tomorrow) that I deserve to be here."
For McNeeley, "here" is a four-round bout against an opponent many consider more a personality than a fighter. And the bout is a long, long way from main events, title fights, and the $540,000 purse he got for fighting Tyson.
For McNeeley, outside the ring, "here" is simply a new day.
"Peter, one day at a time, baby," Tapia told him. "We're right here with you."
This story was published on page 37 of the Boston Herald on 06/26/99.