METROWEST DAILY NEWS Wednesday, October 6, 1999


McNeeley still fighting with his demons

HEAVYWEIGHT BOXER PETER McNEELEY Heavyweight boxer Peter McNeeley is fighting back against addiction.

By Lenny Megliola

This was a test. Every day's a test for Peter McNeeley. Some come down harder, the temptation greater.

Take Monday night at Karma, the Lansdowne Street night spot. People from Jack Daniel's, Sinatra's booze of choice (he took a jug to his grave), held a private anniversary party. McNeeley was asked to appear for a small fee. Darius Rucker, the lead singer for Hootie & The Blowfish performed.

Jack Daniel's. Peter McNeeley. The irony was too blunt. McNeeley went anyway.

"No drinking," says McNeeley, a mantra he has to stick by to stay on his feet, maybe even above ground.

He has already danced once with the demons of alcohol and drugs, and paid an awful price, losing himself, his dignity, in a crack house haze. He was swilling away what money he'd pocketed for the brave night that he stepped into the ring with Mike Tyson one summer Vegas night four years ago.

McNeeley's ring career has gone backward since the Tyson fight, and his dismal loss to the Moby Dick clone Butterbean a few months ago all but closed out his chances of decent pay nights in this brutal sport.

He still works out, recently at the Petronelli gym in Brockton, more regularly at the Danforth gym in Framingham and the West Natick firehouse. Those are just workouts. For McNeeley, there's a fight every day more frightening than anything he finds in the ring. The tentacles of the bottle are always reaching for a guy like McNeeley. That's the daily fight.

He's not just standing flatfooted, taking the blows. If the gym is where he works out, it's Alcohol Anonymous meetings where he finds strength. "I go to a meeting every day," he says. "On days I really feel the pressure, I go to two meetings."

So far, so good. "A woman came up to me the other night and asked why I wasn't drinking." Don't do that anymore, he told her. "I'm enjoying being me," says McNeeley. "I'm not perfect, but I'm living a much better life this way. No stress. No paranoia.

"People give me a hard time when they see me drinking. The other night at Karma people were well-behaved. It was the first time in a long time I wasn't harassed."

He knows it won't always be this easy, that dark nights wait to engulf him in booze and drugs. "Life always has obstacles coming at you every day," he says. He should know.

His new church, his new religion is the AA meetings he attends. "Like they say," says McNeeley, "many meetings, many chances. Few meetings, few chances. No meeting, no chance."

There is talk of a fight card at the Whitman Armory next month which McNeeley would be on. But local fight nights frequently fizzle and never come off. "Especially in Massachusetts," says McNeeley. If it happens, it happens. If the card is canceled, he'll have a safer retreat to go to. The basement of a church. An AA meeting. The never-ending fight. Never-ending hope.

(Lenny Megliola is the News sports columnist.)

This story ran on page 1D of The MetroWest Daily News on 10/06/99