Wednesday, June 28, 1995

McNeeley is on a mission

By Rick Warner

NEW YORK — When Peter McNeeley was 7, he found an old copy of Sports Illustrated in the attic. His father, boxer Tom McNeeley, Jr., was on the cover.

"That's when my dream started," Peter said. "That's when I started thinking about becoming a fighter."

Tom McNeeley lost his bid for the heavyweight title to Floyd Patterson in 1961. Now his son is preparing to fight a former heavyweight champion in one of the most anticipated bouts in years.

On Aug. 19, Mike Tyson will start his comeback against Peter McNeeley in Las Vegas. It will be Tyson's first fight since being released from prison, where he served three years for rape.

Peter McNeeley, left, spars with Garing Lane in New York Tuesday.   McNeeley will fight ex-heavyweight champ Mike Tyson on August 19 in Las Vegas.   (The Associated Press)

Although Tyson hasn't fought in four years, the 26-year-old McNeeley will be a huge underdog.

"That doesn't bother me," McNeeley said Tuesday before a sparring session at an upscale health club near Times Square. "I want to be the first person to fight Tyson after his layoff. The first guy will have the best chance. He might be Rusty Mike instead of Iron Mike."

McNeeley has a pro record of 36-1 with 30 knockouts, including a record-breaking six-second demolition of Frankie Hines in his last bout on April 22. But his victories have come against mostly unheralded opponents. His one loss was to Stanley Wright, a 6-foot-10 former pro basketball player who stopped him on a cut in the eighth round.

"That was a fluke," McNeeley said. "I won the first seven rounds, but he hit me with an illegal blow and busted up my eye. The cut needed 40 stitches after the fight."

Many boxing observers think McNeeley will be in worse shape after fighting Tyson, who has knocked out 36 of 42 opponents, including several world champions. However, the third-generation fighter from Medfield, Mass., says he won't be intimidated.

"I'm going to surprise a lot of people," said McNeeley, whose grandfather made the US Olympic team and fought on the opening night of Boston Garden in 1928. "I'm not changing my style for anybody. Basically I'm a puncher, and I'm going to try to knock him out."

McNeeley's sparring partner, Garing Lane, gives him a puncher's chance.

"Peter has the power. One good punch and anything can happen," said Lane, who has fought Larry Holmes, Riddick Bowe and Trevor Berbick. "Plus, you have to remember Tyson hasn't fought for a long time. When Michael Jordan came back, he didn't shoot very well. It may be the same way with Tyson."

At Tuesday's sparring session, McNeeley was surrounded by photographers, reporters, and well-wishers. While he admits the attention can be distracting, McNeeley says he is "enjoying the ride."

"It's better than being ignored," he said. "I was at a concert recently, and they invited me up on stage to introduce one of the bands. That probably wouldn't happen if I wasn't fighting Mike Tyson."

When McNeeley entered the room, he was accompanied by the "Rocky" theme. It isn't his only connection with the Sylvester Stallone character.

"Tommy Morrison beat me out for that role in Rocky V," said McNeeley. "But I'm fighting Mike Tyson and he isn't."

Vinnie Vecchione, the boxer's manager and trainer, thinks McNeeley can hold his own against Tyson.

"There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that he belongs in the ring with Mike Tyson," Vecchione said.

See also:   McNeeley Exhibition Highlights Foxboro Card   [Boxing Illustrated]

This story ran on page 25 of The Brockton Enterprise on 06/28/95