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World-class heavyweight contender of the 1950's and 60's
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— April 1960

Boxing Illustrated - April 1960


By Henry Krawiec

If you judge him solely on the basis of his remarkable ring record, his fiery Irish temperament and his good looks, McNeeley appears to be a sure bet for eventual success. But there are other things to consider — the really important things.

It's a wonderful thing to be 22, 196 pounds, undefeated, and Tom McNeeley. If you were all these things you would have a great future ahead of you. If you could fight, that is.

TOM McNEELEYLooking at the record, it appears that young McNeeley can fight. At least, he can punch. In 16 professional bouts he has racked up 14 knockouts and he has never been beaten. Here are some of the other things Tom has going for him: A devoted father who was himself a heavyweight boxer and who has offered constructive as well as emotional encouragement to his son from the beginning; a manager who is a millionaire; a knockout victory in his first Madison Square Garden main event. Tom is handsome, as fighters go, clean-cut, and Irish. He is intelligent, can think for himself, and he knows how to take orders.

In short, Boston's Thomas McNeeley is a glowing example of the new breed of fist fighters. He is not "hungry" and never has been. He is not an ex-juvenile delinquent; in fact, he is a former high school All-American football player who went on to play at Michigan State University. And finally, he did not take up boxing to escape an unwanted fate — he took it up because he loves it. He loves it so much in fact that it has gotten him into trouble — and onto a psychiatrist's couch!

A few fighters, during the past decade, have visited "head-shrinkers" in order to get a little ready-made courage talked into them. Tom McNeeley is the only one ever known to be de-analyzed because of too much enthusiasm! Take his first pro fight, for example. It took place on July 17, 1958 at Boston's Norwood Arena. His opponent was one Richie Norton.

Fight time approached and the matchmaker stuck his head into the dressing room. "You're on next, McNeeley — Norton's waiting in the ring!"

Zoom! With the startled matchmaker cowering in the hall and manager Pete Fuller trailing behind, young McNeeley tore out of the dressing room and down the aisle. "Lemme at him!" he yelled as he leaped into the ring.

Poor Norton, in his corner, stared aghast at the frowning Irishman who was chomping at the bit across the ring. "What's the matter with that boy — is he mad at me, or somethin'?" Already Norton had lost the fight, for now he had something to worry about: why was this stranger, McNeeley, mad at him?

As it happened, he shouldn't have worried. McNeeley was just mad, period. Angry, that is, not demented. For some reason, he became angry at the mere thought of somebody trying to hit him in the ring — or anywhere else, for that matter. "He was that same way as a kid in the streets of Arlington," says his father, who is now a florist. "He got in a lot of street fights — we were in a mighty rough neighborhood, you know — but he wouldn't fight just because people picked on him but because he liked to fight. He'd swarm all over those poor kids — knock 'em out!"

It was that way in the Arena, too. McNeeley swarmed all over Richie Norton and belted him out in the second round. It's the way Tome scored most of his 16 professional victories; an overwhelming attack with every punch thrown calculated to knock his opponent senseless.


Tom made a big debut at Madison Square Garden against durable George Logan of Idaho. (Left) McNeeley opened a bad cut over Logan's eye early in the fight and ultimately won by KO in the fourth round.   (Right) Logan congratulates McNeeley on winning his 16th bout in a row. "I was lucky," Tom said to the man he just stopped.

"I have an overpowering urge to win," admits Tom in a Boston accent. "I don't know why. That's why Pete sent me to that brain massager, to find out."

A Pete Fuller found out, there wasn't much wrong with Tom, just an over-zealous desire to win; it kept him punching after the bell, and dancing out of his corner before it rang — things like that. The analyst apparently "cured" the fighter after four visits, for which millionaire Fuller footed the bill ($600). But they also found out that they should have kept quiet about it. Too many people, in this enlightened age, still think that anybody who visits a psychiatrist for minor therapy must be a nut, or on the verge. As a result, people in and out of the trade figure that either something is "wrong" with McNeeley, or that Fuller has thought up a good promotional gimmick. The psycho business adds color to the McNeeley reputation. Actually the episode neither hurt nor helped him.

Because of, or maybe in spite of, this over-eagerness, Tom has won all of his fights within six rounds or less. The same impatience caused him to cut short his college education. At Michigan State on a football scholarship, Tom could have gone on to become a possible football immortal and eventually land a lucrative job. But from the beginning he liked boxing more than football, and when the boxing team was disbanded, McNeeley quit school to become a professional fighter.

McNeeley's proud and ambitious young (36) manager, Pete Fuller, once fought as an amateur alongside another New Englander, a kid named Rocco Marchegiano (later changed to Rocky Marciano). "Something must have rubbed off Rocky onto me," said Fuller with a grin. "Although I never went on to the big time, I felt that I just had to stay in boxing some way. I saw McNeeley and grabbed him right away. I thought I had something good in him. And I still do."

You can tell by the way he talks about his fighter that Fuller has an idea Tom can — and will — go all the way. Like most managers who don't depend on boxing for a living, Pete has more enthusiasm than experience.

So today we see Tom McNeeley standing like a junior Colossus astride the heap. Below him stretches the whole world. At the moment it looks like his oyster.

But is it? Let's take a closer look.

How far McNeeley or any other fighter goes depends on three factors — himself, the people around him, and the breaks. We'll consider the fighter first.

Sure, Tom has won all of his fights, and most of them in the early rounds. This is all to the good. But — it also means that he has not yet been tested against quality talent; that he has yet to prove whether he can go ten rounds with a tough, hard-hitting puncher, and whether he has that extra steel-like quality which enables a fighter to come off the floor in the eighth, recover in the ninth and win in the tenth. Just because he has a similar record to Rocky Marciano's at the same stage of their careers means little. It's how long he can keep it that way that counts.

Rocky kept it that way until, with his 42nd straight win, he beat Jersey Joe Walcott for the championship. Forty-two is a long way from 16. And the championship of the world is a long, long way from a first 10-round main event in the Garden.

What about the people around young McNeeley? These include his family, manager, trainer Jack Martin, handlers and advisors. It also includes others who will expect a piece of the pie when they see it's worth cutting into.

It isn't always a good thing to have a father or uncle who happens to be your chief rooter and head cheer leader. Sometimes, as relatives will, they tend to get delusions of grandeur; they can say things that could go to a young man's head — and result in getting it knocked off. That is not to imply that it's that way in McNeeley's case. Tom Sr. seems to be a level-headed Irishman who knows the score. Only time will tell what the score is to be.

Pete Fuller is not a full-time, lifelong, hard-bitten professional manager of prize fighters. It's tough for such sincere, well-meaning people to manage an undefeated fighter. Like the fathers and uncles, they, too, tend to get over-enthusiastic at times. This means that, when their boy starts getting comments in the New York papers, and fan mail from the TV reviewers, they start seeing him in the ring with the likes of Harold Johnson, Sonny Liston, and, yes, Ingemar Johansson. This is dangerous thinking. It can be fatal.

Again, this is not to be interpreted as advice to any of the parties under discussion; we're not mind readers; we're not trying to scare anybody. But we know what has happened in the past.

As for the people who may later try to cut themselves a piece of the McNeeley pie (assuming it's not just a half-baked pie that will be tossed out by the time it's cold), whether they hurt young Tom depends on his manager. There will be promoters and matchmakers — and other managers — who will want to toss this young wildcat into the ring with a seasoned but colorless murderer. This would mean a bigger gate and a big boost for the colorless one — but it could also mean disaster for Tom McNeeley. This won't happen if millionaire Fuller keeps a tranquil mind and faces reality.

What about the timing of McNeeley's career? That is, what are his chances of really big success at a time when a smart Swedish businessman holds the title, a vengeful ex-champion (Patterson) is determined to get it back, a very good contender (Liston) is ready to take them both on — and a half dozen good-to-dangerous heavyweights are scrambling for the crumbs?

For the next couple of years McNeeley won't have to worry about it. It will take that long for him to reach true contender status — or it should. By that time a lot will have happened. Patterson may have won back "his" title and, smarter that before, managed to hold onto it. Johansson, on the other hand, may have proved that his right hand is indeed "a gift from God," as he calls it, and may retain his crown. If, by the time he's ready, either Patterson or Johansson — or Cooper or Machen or Foley — is champion, a tougher, more experienced McNeeley may indeed prove to be another Marciano.

If Sonny Liston happens to be heavyweight champion, McNeeley — and everybody else — will have to wait a long while.

Taking a longer range view — say four or five years — by that time most of today's contenders will have opened their bars and grills, or have become managers, or vanished, or perhaps become immortal. Tom McNeeley will then be only 27 years old, with three to five good years left. If he continues along the same path he has started; if he takes his work, but never himself, seriously, then he may round out a good, worthy and highly profitable career as a fist fighter.

He may even get to be champion of the world.

Or, in his next bout, he may again break the shattered knuckle on his left fist (he broke it against the granite jaw of George Logan), and never fight again.

Yes, it's a wonderful thing to be 22, 196 pounds, undefeated, and Tom McNeeley. If you are all these things, then you may have a great future ahead of you. If you can fight, that is.

This article appeared in the April 1960 issue of Boxing Illustrated.