THE BOSTON HERALD - SPORTS Monday, August 21, 1995

A real shame for McNeeley

Local fighter shows grit in losing effort against Tyson

By George Kimball

LAS VEGAS — The cynics who predicted that, faced with the glowering spectacle of Mike Tyson a few feet in front of him, Peter McNeeley would crawl under the ring and hide couldn't have been more wrong. At the opening bell, McNeeley charged across the ring after Tyson, and for the 89 seconds the bout lasted, served as the aggressor in an awkward barroom brawl whose terms he had dictated.

But the courageous McNeeley might not even have been the bravest man in the ring at the MGM Grand Garden Saturday night. It's arguable that that distinction may have belonged to Braintree's Vinnie Vecchione, who stepped between the ropes and into the ring after the fight's second knockdown to save his fighter from further punishment once it became apparent that referee Mills Lane was prepared to send the wobbly-legged McNeeley back to Tyson for the kill.

TAKE THAT, TYSON — Medfield heavyweight Peter McNeeley showed true courage in his fight with former champion Mike Tyson, charging the "Baddest Man on the Planet" from the opening bell and serving as the aggressor throughout their brief bout.   (AP Photo)

Vecchione's intervention drew shouts of derision from the celebrity-studded crowd of 16,736 that had come to see Tyson's first fight in more than four years and thought that, at $1,200 for a ringside ticket, it was entitled to see McNeeley's brains splattered around the ring, rather than what was officially ruled a disqualification.

Two hours later, the Nevada State Athletic Commission announced it was withholding Vecchione's $179,820 manager's share of the purse pending a hearing before the full five-member board. The hearing normally requires a 30-day notification, but Vecchione, who flew back to Boston last night, waived that formality, meaning the commission could convene before the month is out.

The commission's decision was curious, considering that 13 years earlier, under precisely the same circumstances, Gerry Cooney's trainer, Victor Valle, entered the ring and wrapped his arms around his fighter to protect him from further punishment at the hands of Larry Holmes. Lane, the referee in that fight, claimed that result was a disqualification, although Holmes-Cooney went into the record books as a 13th-round TKO. Nobody attempted to withhold Valle's purse that night at Caesar's Palace, nor did anyone question his motives.

Lane questioned Vecchione's intervention, claiming that McNeeley appeared eager to continue.

That, of course, is balderdash. The fighter almost always wants to keep fighting. Jimmy Garcia wanted to keep fighting, too — and had his manager (in Garcia's case, his father) done what Vecchione did Saturday night, he would be alive today.

"Did I stop the fight after the first knockdown? No," Vecchione said yesterday. "Did I stop it after the second knockdown? No. It was only after I saw Lane wipe Peter's gloves off and then saw Peter lurch back against the ropes that I came in. Somebody had to protect him. I could see that he wasn't right, even if the referee couldn't.

It sure as if Mills Lane was interested in saving McNeeley from anything. The pro-Tyson crowd was clamoring for Barabbas, and Lane was prepared to hand him over.

"You'd have to be a fool to not see what was going to happen next," said Vecchione. "Peter was staggering. I could just see him leaning forward and Tyson landing one of those big uppercuts. He could have been seriously hurt. That's why I stopped it."

The ensuing controversy was no doubt fueled by Vecchione's ex-friend, promoter Don King, who at once lauded McNeeley's performance and disparaged Vecchione's actions. Although the outcome technically robs Tyson of a knockout and allows McNeeley to claim that he finished the fight on his feet, Vecchione insisted that his fighter's safety was his only motive.

As a yardstick by which to measure the progress of Tyson's comeback, the fight was a wash. In his prime, Tyson's forte was landing precision combinations with lethal force, but by turning the fight into a brawl, McNeeley never allowed Tyson to get into his niche. McNeeley's game plan had been predicated on landing a lucky punch early, but Saturday night Tyson's lucky punch landed first.

"Peter is 26 years old," Vecchione said. "He still has a future in this game."

Whatever the future holds, it won't commence for at least 45 days. McNeeley was automatically suspended by the Nevada commission for that long as a result of the stoppage. Vecchione, in the meantime, hopes to match his heavyweight next against former contender Alex Garcia this fall, possibly at the Fleet Center.

Related articles:
Weighing In For The Big Fight: Tyson vs. McNeeley   [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Spunky McNeeley Shows Off Poetry Skills   [Las Vegas Review-Journal]
McNeeley Says Tyson's Hurtin'   [The New York Post]

This story was published in the Boston Herald on 08/21/95.