|Wednesday, September 28, 1994|
McNeeley Hoping For Sure Shot Against McCall
By Lenny Megliola
They are all King's men: This seasoned yet unknown champ; this young upstart from Medfield, of all places, who calls himself Hurricane; even the convicted rapist still doing time, the one everybody really wants to see fight again.
Oliver McCall. Peter McNeeley. Mike Tyson. All King's men.
Yesterday, McNeeley flew to New York, hoping but not counting on a deal — a King deal — that would get him in the ring as fast as possible with McCall, who had unexpectedly wrested the WBC heavyweight title from overblown Lennox Lewis in London last week.
Oh, King was there all right yesterday, in the Rainbow Room, Rockefeller Center, about three planets removed from McNeeley's normal world which entails a lot of flailing at the heavy bag, a lot of rope skipping at the South Shore Boxing Club. But no, a deal wasn't cut, not even discussed, so Hurricane Peter McNeeley simply soaked up the moment.
Was he disappointed? Naah.
"Just another B.S. thing," says McNeeley, back in his Medfield home last night. "I've gone through those before."
He has grown up the son of a fighter. He has heard all the stories, this brutal sport being such a fragile business, full of feints and deceit. You live with it.
"I've been conditioned that in this business you're on and you're off," says McNeeley. On. Off. Just like that. Sometimes in the same breath.
So there was no talk, no agreement about a McNeeley-McCall title fight in December, in Boston Garden, or anywhere or anytime. McNeeley understands this nutty life he's chosen.
"I flew out to Minneapolis last year," he says. "My first road fight. I stepped on the scale for the weigh-in the morning of the fight, but that was it: there was no fight. It was cancelled."
What's the lesson then, from Minneapolis to the Rainbow Room? Simple. "I could easily be side-stepped again," says McNeeley.
Yesterday, King and McCall were just returning from England. The previously little-known McCall was the new champ. King had to do some strutting. He had his new toy.
"It was McCall's coming out party," says McNeeley. Still, the day was beneficial to the even more obscure McNeeley. "There were a lot of heavy hitters in the room," he says. Al Sharpton, for one. "He looked good," says McNeeley. "Lost some weight." Rev. Sharpton. Don King. "I gave him a big hug."
The New York press, the boxing writers, the boxing magazine people, got their first glimpse of Tom McNeeley's kid. Tom, they knew. This was great exposure for a fighter who hadn't had any beyond routes 128 and 495. "This wasn't like a press conference at Foxboro Raceway," says McNeeley. "There was a lot of juice to it."
It might have been McCall's moment but why couldn't the spotlight spill over a bit? Hadn't King's right hand man, Al Braverman, asked McNeeley to show up? The publicity couldn't have been better: Gotham, the TV cameras rolling, McNeeley's handsome face flashed around the country, the boxing people getting a close-up of the new champ and the up-and-coming kid who would be champ. McCall vs. McNeeley. It's all up to King.
Yeah, the party was McCall's, but McNeeley made a big splash with the attending media. By all accounts, the kid charmed their collective socks off.
The name Oliver McCall hardly rang a bell before, now he would be a constant on McNeeley's mind. "I think I'm going to fight him, but nothing's been ironed out yet," says McNeeley. "We've got to work out a fee and a date at the Garden. I'm going to keep my fingers crossed."
Despite the fact that nothing has actually been signed, several reports prematurely announcing the fight as a done deal have already hit press.
Vinnie Vecchione, McNeeley's manager, was looking at a St. Patrick's Day Garden date, but his fighter doesn't want to wait that long. Too many things can happen. You can get lost in a hurry in this business, even if you're a familiar face, which McNeeley knows he isn't yet.
But a Garden bout, say in December? Lovely. The local kid would be the draw, not the unknown champ.
"I'm going to be the ticket seller," says McNeeley, in anticipation of the full house in what surely would be the last fight at the old Garden. "I'm white, I'm good looking and I'm an exciting fighter."
And he'd win, he's sure. Well, pretty sure. He saw a tape of the McCall-Lewis fight. "McCall looked apprehensive, tenuous," says McNeeley. "He just landed a lucky punch. And I think he's a little older than he's letting on." McNeeley is 25. McCall is listed at 29. "He's got to be at least 34 or 35," says McNeeley. "He's got five or six kids."
And he's got the title. While McCall revels in that, McNeeley will carry on as usual — train, whack the heavy bag, and hope for the best, the big fight, the big payday. Until then, he still plans on fighting someone named Butch Kelly Oct. 8 at the Whitman Armory, another nickel-and-dime night.
The next one could be different, if it is against McCall. "I'd be happy to make a quarter of a million," says McNeeley. But then Braverman would take his cut, Vecchione his. There'd be sundry expenses. "If I walk away with $100,000, that would be good," he concedes finally.
Maybe yesterday was just more B.S., the fight game just one long boulevard of broken dreams and promises. Or maybe not. Maybe McCall is in McNeeley's future. It's King's call. And if McCall can flatten Lewis like that, why couldn't McNeeley do the same to McCall?
"I've met him once before, in Lake Tahoe," says McNeeley. "He's a real gentleman. But I've got to whack him out. That's business."
And after that, why not McNeeley and Tyson?
Peter McNeeley knows it could all happen, or none of it could go down. If he inched closer to something big yesterday afternoon in the Rainbow Room, he was also saying this by the time he got home: "I can always go back to the Whitman Armory."
This story ran on page 1D of The Middlesex Daily News on 09/28/94