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Saturday, March 17, 2001

Heavyweights Akinwande, McNeeley get serious

By St. Clair Murraine
DEMOCRAT STAFF WRITER

Henry Akinwande didn't see Peter McNeeley until they arrived in Tallahassee, although both heavyweights flew into town on the same airline.

BOXERS HENRY AKINWANDE AND PETER McNEELEY
Boxer Henry Akinwande (left), who stands 6-foot-8, met opponent Peter McNeeley for the first time at the airport when McNeeley playfully bumped him from behind then introduced himself.

Had it not been for McNeeley playfully bumping Akinwande from the back in baggage claim, they probably wouldn't have seen each other until Friday's weigh-in.

The first time meeting at the airport was very brief. They hugged, shook hands and went their separate ways. But that's where the pleasantries end because there is a lot more than the WBC Intercontinental title at stake in tonight's 12-round fight at The Moon.

Akinwande is in a must-win situation if he is to stay in the sweepstakes for a shot at newly crowned and lightly regarded WBA champion John Ruiz. The fight is crucial to proving McNeeley's legitimacy as a contender in the division, and possibly saving his career.

A sellout crowd is expected to watch the first major heavyweight fight to take place in Tallahassee, which will be shown on the Sunshine Network (Cable 23) on Wednesday at 11:30 p.m. Ticket sales were brisk on Friday with only a few seats available in each section.

Not since McNeeley lost to Mike Tyson in his comeback bid has he been in such an important fight. And Akinwande, at 6-foot-8, is one of the biggest opponents he has faced.


HENRY AKINWANDE'S ASTOUNDING REACH MEASURES 86 INCHES
Above — A boxing official measures the astounding 86-inch reach of Henry Akinwande during Friday's weigh-in for tonight's fight against Peter McNeeley.   (PHIL SEARS/Democrat)
Below (right) — McNeeley's reach is measured at 74 inches, putting him at a significant disadvantage against his long-limbed opponent.
PETER McNEELEY'S REACH MEASURES 74 INCHES
"This is exciting because I do better against taller guys," McNeeley said, who stands 6-foot-2. "Shorter guys give me more trouble. I'm not taking anything away from Henry Akinwande. His record shows he has been in with some great guys, but I've proven that I belong."

Akinwande weighed in at 246 pounds, while McNeeley weighed in at 227.

McNeeley is coming into the fight with a 47-5 record. It will be only his fifth fight in two years, winning two of the previous four. His inactivity in part was caused by his battle with substance abuse.

McNeeley says he has been clean for over a year.

"I think I've cut myself short because I've had some circumstances going against me, most of them caused by myself," McNeeley said. "Now I'm clean and I must go on."

Going on means he has to get past Akinwande (39-1-1) in his adopted hometown, a scenario McNeeley's camp is familiar with.

PETER McNEELEY FILMING PROMOTIONAL FOOTAGE
McNeeley prepares to film a promotional clip for the fight card, which will be broadcast nationwide by the Fox Sports Network.

"We have fought around the world, and Peter has been in with some of the best fighters," said Vinnie Vecchione, McNeeley's manager. "Henry Akinwande doesn't bother us...Peter doesn't seem to be intimidated by anybody, though, which sometimes gets him in trouble."

But even with the odds in his favor, Akinwande is in a Catch 22 situation. A win over McNeeley is expected but if he goes the distance or worse, loses, his legitimacy could be questioned more than it was in a disqualification loss to Lennox Lewis four years ago.

Akinwande's trainer, Walter Smith, knows the danger in McNeeley.

"He wasn't scared of Tyson, and he came right out at Tyson. I've been telling Henry he is going to come right at him," said Smith, who trains Akinwande at Detroit's famed Kronk Gym. "McNeeley is here to make money, but we aren't taking him lightly. We know he's a tough kid and a big puncher. We expect a rough fight while it lasts."

Akinwande agrees that McNeeley's aggressive style could make for a long night. But he said losing isn't an option.

"Things have opened up on the heavyweight scene, and I want to keep winning no matter what," he said. "(John) Ruiz has the belt now and I will beat him easily if I get a shot. With McNeeley, I'm just going to go there and do what I've been doing in training camp. His style is perfectly suited to mine. If he goes the distance it means he is in the best shape of his life, but he will be taking a lot of punches."


HENRY AKINWANDE AND PETER McNEELEY SQUARE OFF AT THE WEIGH-IN
Heavyweights Henry Akinwande (left) and Peter McNeeley square off at the weigh-in for their WBC Intercontinental championship fight. The bout will take place Saturday night at the Moon Sports Arena in Tallahassee.

Heavyweight Showdown

The matchup: Henry Akinwande vs. Peter McNeeley.

When: March 17, 7 P.M.

Where: The Moon.

What's at Stake: WBC intercontinental title.

Undercard: Five preliminary bouts, including two that feature Tallahassee's Robert Davis and Jodi Kombrinck.

Admission: $50, $35, $25, $20.

Related articles:
McNeeley Signed To Fight Akinwande   [Tallahassee Democrat]
McNeeley Fights Back   [Tallahassee Democrat]
Akinwande vs McNeeley   [Tallahassee Democrat]


This story was published on Page 1C of the Tallahassee Democrat on 03/17/2001.