Sunday, June 12, 1995


Kissing blarney stone

King contends big things are in McNeeley's future now

By Ron Borges


He can see it even now, sitting in his office in Florida sweltering under a midday sun. He can see young Peter McNeeley standing in the middle of a boxing ring, the heavyweight champion's belt around his waist and Irishmen from Slago to Southie dancing in the street, throwing the green in his direction.

It's a promoter's dream.

MONEY AND MORE — Boxing promoter Don King (right) poses with recently signed fighter Peter McNeeley. The Medfield heavyweight has a great record and a big punch, but it's probably his looks and Caucasian pigmentation that sparked King's interest.

"If he can keep winning, he could be a hell of a star," King said of the New England prospect whom he signed for what McNeeley's manager and friend, Vinnie Vecchione, calls "a four- to 40-year deal."

Regardless, King is hoping his vision will come alive sooner than that because if it does, he knows what will follow. The banking of the green.

"It won't take much with the record he's got [27-1, 21 KOs] to get him in position," King said. "Three or four straight knockouts and he can become a huge star. He's got the punch to put people to sleep. Some people say this kid is nothing special, but they also said Larry Holmes was nothing and he was champion for seven years.

"I have a record of taking these type guys over to the other side. I took Oliver McCall and Tony Tucker to No. 1 after their lives of chemical abuse, so I certainly can do something for a clean-cut kid like Peter McNeeley.

"The public is hungry for a white fighter. Look at the money [Tommy] Morrison makes, and he's a loser. I'm going to make McNeeley a winner. If Peter won the title, he'd be monstrous. Peter's a good looking kid — the All-American boy. He and [Mike] Tyson would take this thing to a new universe. That'd be the best thing since black pepper. If Peter won the title, the dandelions would be jumping up in the field and the leprechauns would be jumping from glen to glen singing, 'Oh, Danny boy. Oh, Danny boy.'"

Or something like that.

The more cynical among us looked upon last week's signing of the pigmentationally correct McNeeley by King as possibly creating cannon fodder for Tyson when the former champion comes out of an Indiana prison to fight again. If that were to happen, McNeeley would be well paid for what he would have to endure, earning large money in the fashion of the many great white hopes who have proceded him into a boxing ring (many of whom left horizontally).

This has been a tradition in boxing, and a lucrative one, dating back to the days when Jack Johnson terrorized America by winning the heavyweight title and impolitely refusing to give it up.

But perhaps something else is afoot here. It would take an only slightly less cynical mind to see another motive in King's backing of McNeeley, one that King himself readily acknowledges.

"Why should he be denied an opportunity to be with the best [promoter] because he's a white boy?" King said. "The color of his skin was not his doing. I got to practice what I preach. I got to take the 2 x 4 out of my eye before I can take the splinter out of yours.

"If I could promote Peter into position to fight for the heavyweight title, it would prove the negative things said about me are not true. And to do it in Massachusetts, the cradle of this type of thinking, where John Quincy Adams, our sixth president, the old sage, came out of retirement to defend slaves who had led an uprising on a slave ship! Oh, my! Adams asked but one thing — 'God give me the utterance' — and he argued before the Supreme Court for eight hours in the Armistead case and he won. The question would be more fitting to ask John Quincy Adams, a son of Boston, why he defended a bunch of slaves from Sierre Leone than to ask Don King why he is promoting Peter McNeeley."

Or something like that.

The why, actually, is very obvious. It's the same reason promoters promote any fighter: to make money. But in this case, there is more at stake for King than money. Freedom, on various levels, may be at stake here, too.

"To do this would be one of the high points of my career," King said. "I did it with [Michael] Dokes and Holmes, nondescript fighters who were not supposed to get there. This would be a public relations bonanza for me to do it for this white kid from Boston. I understand that."

What King also understands is that he may need a little good publicity in upcoming months because he believes a federal indictment is coming down soon that will charge him with insurance fraud and possibly other crimes resulting from accusations made by his former accountants and other associates.

A federal investigation into King's dealings has been dragging on for months, with the rumor that he would be indicted being whispered to the press at least a half-dozen times without any action. But that inaction has only convinced King of what is inevitable.

"They been working years to get me indicted," King said. "They got the CIA, the FBI, the IRS, Interpol all on top of me without no foundation, so I know I'll be indicted. That's just a rubber stamp. They've spent 2 1/2 years and the taxpayer's money, what they gonna do, say King is innocent?

"I know I won't be convicted because I haven't done anything. The people won't buy that b.s. They understand what prejudice is. My only fear is they'll frame me, but here, in the cradle of liberty, catchin' comes before hangin' and I will have the opportunity to get redress for my grievances.

"I understand what they're doing. They're trying to render me ineffective to do business because I've been running successfully without Tyson. That was supposed to kill Don King, but it didn't. They figure if I have legal problems and Tyson comes out of jail, maybe he'll run away.

"I understand what they're doing, but even if that happens, which I doubt, Peter McNeeley will be throwing the blows of the Continental Army and I will be making the speeches for freedom. I love this country, but you got to take the bitter with the sweet. I'm willing to take the pain for the gain. McNeeley could be a great help. He and me could be a boomerang for all of them."

Or something like that.

Short jabs

Don't want to sound like a skeptic, but here's the way one boxing insider described Riddick Bowe's decision to pull out of last night's scheduled bout with Buster Mathis Jr. because of back pain: "If he'd been fighting a guy who just stood in front of him, he'd have showed up, but against a mover like Mathis, it would have looked like a whale chasing plankton." But others who saw Bowe in Los Angeles in late May claim the former heavyweight champion appeared to be no more than 250 pounds, a reasonable training weight three weeks before a bout. What seemed to legitimize the injury more was Bowe's decision to back out of a scheduled "Tonight" show spot because of back pain several days before the announcement that the fight was off ... Either way, Bowe's short-term future is in doubt, both in terms of his July 15 fight in Los Angeles and his opponent. Most likely scenario is that if he can return to training within 10 days, as doctors suggest, he'll fight at Hollywood Park against Mathis rather than undefeated prospect Larry Donald, his original July opponent ... Negotiations are close to being finalized for the Nov. 15 heavyweight title fight between Michael Moorer and George Foreman at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, with MGM putting up $1 million and HBO paying $7.5 million to televise. Foreman will receive $1.5 million plus a piece of the live gate, while Moorer will receive $7.5 million ... Micky O'Keefe, a Lowell cop by trade but a boxing man by inclination, has been working to prepare Micky Ward for his return to boxing Friday night at the Lowell Sheraton vs. Luis Castillo. Also on the card is Bash Ali. Ali is scheduled to fight durable Marc Machain, but promoter John Gagliardi was concerned that Machain might pull out. Tickets are on sale for $20.

Related articles:
McNeeley In Ring With King   [The Boston Herald]
King Contract Crowning Jewel For McNeeley   [Brockton Enterprise]
The Hurricane And The King   [Hurricane Watch]

This story was published in the Boston Globe on 06/12/94.