Smokin' Joe Takes On Hurricane Pete

By Jay Gearan

LEOMINSTER - It's 10 days and counting until the highly anticipated boxing match between Leominster police detective Joe Siciliano and Peter McNeeley.

"Smokin' Joe" and "Hurricane Pete", as they're called, will battle in a scheduled four-round bout on Saturday, June 17, at the Leominster Armory.

Mr. McNeeley, perhaps best known for taking on Mike Tyson in a celebrated match five years ago, hasn't fought in Massachusetts in nearly three years.

"We've been negotiating to get this fight together for over a year," Mr. Siciliano said. "I'm glad it's finally going to take place. I'm looking forward to it."

Mr. Siciliano, 5-foot-10 and 265 lbs., is eager to box the 6-2, 225-pound McNeeley.

"I'm definitely stepping way up in class," said the 32-year-old Mr. Siciliano, who has fought six exhibition pro fights and won them all. "The big key is getting through the first round. Ninety-five percent of McNeeley's knockouts have come in the first round."

Peter McNeeley, 31, is certainly well-known in the heavyweight boxing world. He was ranked seventh by the World Boxing Association and 10th by the World Boxing Council at the time of the Tyson fight.

Mr. McNeeley has had 51 fights during his career. He has won 46, with 35 knockouts, and lost only five.

Both his father, Tom Jr., and his grandfather, Tom Sr., were boxers. Tom Sr. was the national amateur champion and a member of the 1928 Olympic team. He also was part of the first fight card held at the Boston Garden in 1928.

Tom Jr. challenged Floyd Patterson for the heavyweight championship in 1961, and was pictured on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Mr. McNeeley's mother, Nancy, was a finalist in the Miss Universe pageant in the early 1960's.

Turning pro in 1991, Mr. McNeeley won his first six fights by way of first-round knockouts. He then went on to win 18 more consecutive fights before losing his first fight in 1994 to Stanley Wright due to a severe cut. McNeeley had been in complete control and was winning every round on all scorecards at the time of the stoppage.

In his most famous bout, Peter McNeeley fought Mike Tyson in August 1995. The fight, which was broadcast to over one billion people, started at a relentless pace. After getting hit flush with a vicious Tyson uppercut midway through the first round, Mr. McNeeley looked dazed and his manager and trainer Vinnie Vecchione climbed into the ring and ended the fight by disqualification at the 1:39 mark.

"I know that Peter is taking this fight seriously," said Mr. Siciliano. "But so am I."

Under the watchful eyes of manager John Zabloki and trainer Tom Kelly, Mr. Siciliano is in the final stages of a rigorous workout schedule that has included road work, shadow boxing, heavy bag punching, and sparring.

"I've never trained as hard for a fight as I have for this one," Mr. Siciliano said. "I think I'm ready for the next level. I've fought some of the best amateur boxers around, and now I want to step it up."

Mr. Siciliano also praised the support he's received from the Leominster community and the police department.

"Everyone's been great," Mr. Siciliano said. "We expect a lot of people to come out for this one."

Both McNeeley and Siciliano have similar boxing styles. "He charges out and is a power puncher and that's what I like, too," Mr. Siciliano said. "I think this is going to be one of the most exciting first rounds that people will ever see."

Win or lose, Mr. Siciliano knows that he's an inspiration for many people in Leominster. Being well-known as a boxer has helped in his work with the department's drug-enforcement unit.

"A lot of kids come up to me now on the streets and talk to me about their problems. They're not afraid to open up to me," Mr. Siciliano said.

In his last fight on Nov. 18, Mr. McNeeley defeated Geoff Jones at the Gold Strike Casino in Tunica, Miss. with another first round knockout.

Also on the June 17 boxing card are bouts featuring Danny Phippin, Dan Conway, Bubba Conway, and Dave Hamilton. Tickets are available at West Street Variety and at Dick's Barber Shop in Leominster.

General admission is $20, with ringside seats available for $30. Doors open at 6:30 P.M. at the Armory.

This story ran on page 1 of the Montachuset Telegram & Gazette on 06/07/00.