He blew on to the national stage in 1995, serving as Mike Tyson’s first opponent after Iron Mike’s stint behind bars ended.
He was a fistic everyman, a loveable lug with a gaudy record but a somewhat limited skill set.
Peter McNeeley succumbed to Tyson in 89 seconds after launching a furious charge at the feared brawler. But he has lingered in the hearts and minds of those who’ve followed his personal arc far longer than that, and has announced to TSS he’ll give it one more go in the ring.
The Massachusetts fighter, who has battled substance abuse demons far more persistent and insidious than an in-ring foe, will strap on the gloves and fight a found round match in Dorchester, Mass. on Sept. 8.
“The Hurricane,” who was guided to a fat payday and mass media attention by manager Vinnie Vecchione, will turn 39 on October 6. He’s been away from the game since 2001, when he suffered a TKO1 loss to Mike Bernardo in South Africa.
The fighter won fans for taking it right to Tyson, and his public battle to steer clear of booze and drugs. During a 1996 rehab visit, he befriended Chris Farley, the Saturday Night Live comedian who also fell prey to overindulgence.
Periodically, McNeeley’s name has popped up, in the news, out of the sports section. Last year, he was charged with robbery in Stoughton, Mass. Authorities said McNeeley drove a getway car after an accomplice robbed a convenience store.
Vecchione, 62, was with McNeeley from the boxer’s first pro bout, in 1991. The manager has been battling back woes for several years, and with the boxer nearing 40, the window to “get the band back together,” so to speak, is closing.
The manager says that he believes his guy can make a little noise in a soft division, and come away with one final cashout scrap.
“I know there’s a huge payday for Peter in Germany or somewhere,” the manager told TSS. “I want him to be how he was, not just do it for the bullshit of it. But there’s not a whole lot out there in the heavyweight division. I don’t think it’s as much as Peter’s gotten better but he’s as good as what’s out there.”
“He’s still got the power, I think there’s quite a few guys we can beat,” he said. “I don’t know against top contenders, but Peter could make some noise.”
The two have talked regularly, even while McNeeley was absent from the ring. The manager says that the fighter has grown, and knows himself better than before.
“He’s a lot more mature,” he said. “He’s been training six weeks. He’s at about 225, 230 pounds. He’s not the first guy to try a comeback, but I don’t think he’ll try it over and over again. He’ll go out and bang his opponent out or not. It’s now or never for Peter.”
Vecchione knows that there is no shortage of people out there who still root for McNeeley. He was asked to explain the fighter’s appeal, and also touch on why McNeeley felt stung as he absorbed so many comedians’ one liners after the Tyson fight, and abuse from sarcastic fightwriters.
“People see him and they associate themselves with him,” he said. “He’s not the greatest in the world. He’s an average guy who comes to fight. And he’s never been shy with words. He’s not a bad guy. He’s had some problems with drinking, he’s had to fight demons, but he never tried to hide that. He’s not a phoney baloney.”
This last stand, Vecchione feels, is important to the fighter as he continues to try and make his way in life without the crutch of chemicals.
“He had to reach a low point and he did about three years ago,” he said. “Maybe some people don’t want him to do it but he’s got to prove it to himself, get himself in condition, do what he can do to satisfy himself. As a human being, you have to know you did everything you could. Now Peter, he’s the kind of guy, if there’s a bag of popcorn, he’s going to eat the whole bag. If he does something wrong, or something right, he does it 100%, he goes 100%, either way.”
There was a time, Vecchione said, that he thought McNeeley might be a lost cause. He admits that he thought the drugs and boozing would drag him under, in deep water, and not let him go.
“But for himself, and the people around him, he accepted that he reached the bottom of the barrel,” Vecchione said. “Besides boxing, people who struggle with booze and drugs is one of the largest groups in the world. It’s an epidemic, whether it’s a writer, or the kid of the former vice president. Peter seems at home in the ring, and safe, cause he’s in control. When he’s not in control he can get himself in trouble. Fighting himself or his demons, probably the safest place for Peter is in the ring.”
SPEEDBAG: The promoter for McNeeley’s comebacker will be Stephen Munro, a 46-year-old born in Brockton, Mass., who works as a PI, investigating insurance fraud. He manages another Massachusetts vet, cruiserweight Tim Flamos, and owned a gym in Brockton. Munro brought Flamos into the sport, and took in one of the fighter’s recent shows. He wasn’t impressed with that promotion, so he figured, why not take the plunge and try to do better? Munro told TSS that he turned down a decent payday for the 40-year-old Flamos (19-3-1) to fight Vassiliy Jirov, and is looking for a bigger score for the boxer. “We were also in a pool to fight Holyfield,” Munro told TSS. “I thought Tim wasn’t busy enough and down the line, I know we can get more than the Jirov offer.” Munro has known Vecchione since the early 80s, and when it became clear that the boxer wanted to give it another try, Munro was in the right place at the right time.