McNeeley Stopped by Butterbean in Controversial Call By Ref

Fight Halted With One Second Left In Round

By Ron Borges, Globe Staff, 06/27/99

LAS VEGAS - The Man With The Hat was perplexed last night.

Four years ago, local fight manager Vinny Vecchione was wildly criticized by the Nevada Athletic Commission for pulling on the brim of his scully cap and jumping into a Las Vegas ring as Mike Tyson was beating up Peter McNeeley, causing the Medfield, Mass., heavyweight to be disqualified only 89 seconds after the fight began.

At the time, McNeeley had already been down twice and was cornered on the ropes, with Tyson boring in on him like an auger. To Vecchione's eyes, stopping things at that juncture seemed a perfectly logical act.

Fast forward four years and we find McNeeley again pinned on the ropes late in the first round of his four-round bout with 311-pound cult hero Eric ''Butterbean'' Esch last night. McNeeley had not been down nor was he cut, and although the Bean had scored with a heavy uppercut and a four-punch flurry as McNeeley fell into the ropes, the round was only a second from being over and his hands were up. Yet referee Jay Nady leaped between the fighters and ended the bout at 2:59 of the first round as McNeeley looked at him as if he had lost his mind.

It was clear McNeeley was having problems with Butterbean's power and uppercut, but problems are an occupational hazard in boxing. So when Nady ended the bout so quickly, both McNeeley and Vecchione were as stunned and displeased as the commission had been four years ago on another short night.

''I know it's difficult to keep track of the time, but you stop a fight that hasn't had a knockdown with a second to go in the first round?'' Vecchione said. ''They complained before about what I did and they let that happen? That's a bitter pill to swallow.''

But swallow it McNeeley (45-5) must, after swallowing two solid uppercuts that snapped his head back, an unexpected left hook that stunned him for a moment, and that final flurry behind it that convinced Nady to make his move.

But Nady's premature decision to bring down the curtain may well have been preordained after commission officials had warned the refereee to keep a close eye on McNeeley after his emotional outburst at Wednesday's press conference, in which he talked about how his life had fallen apart after the Tyson loss.

''I never thought being a little bit emotional at a press conference should have an effect on a fight three nights later,'' McNeeley said. ''They told us before the fight there'd be no standing eight and if you got knocked down it would be his discretion what happened. He never said he'd stop it quick.''

Although that is what happened, there was no question Butterbean (45-1-1) was getting the better of McNeeley, his nearly 100-pound weight advantage and fitness to fight working to his advantage. McNeeley had not fought since February, while the Bean had been in the ring three times in the last month. And it looked that way, as he consistently beat McNeeley to the punch.

Minutes after World Boxing Council lightweight champion Stevie Johnston won a boring but unanimous decision from challenger Aldo Rios, McNeeley burst into the ring all vim and vigor and, soon after, Butterbean made a grand entrance, gyrating to ''Sweet Home Alabama'' after rejecting the version of ''You Sexy Thing'' that was suggested by the fight's promoters.

''Everything went exactly as planned,'' Butterbean said. ''I went for the knockout and I got exactly what I wanted. I was never hurt.''

Frankly, neither was Peter McNeeley.

This story ran on page E12 of the Boston Globe on 06/27/99.