When Peter McNeeley was starting out as a boxer, he was a big Mike Tyson fan.
“I still have a poster of him on my wall,” McNeeley said. “I never dreamed I would be fighting him someday.”
That day is Aug. 19, when McNeeley will meet Tyson in the former heavyweight champion’s first fight since being released from prison. Although Tyson hasn’t fought in four years, the lightly regarded, 26-year-old McNeeley will be a huge underdog in the Las Vegas bout.
“That doesn’t bother me,” McNeeley said Tuesday before a sparring session at an upscale health club near Times Square. “I want to be the first person to fight Tyson after his layoff. The first guy will have the best chance. He might be Rusty Mike instead of Iron Mike.”
McNeeley has a pro record of 36-1 with 30 knockouts, including a sixsecond demolition of Frankie Hines in his last bout on April 22. But his victories have come against a bunch of no-name opponents, and his one loss was to Stanley Wright, a 6-foot-10 former pro basketball player who stopped him on cuts in the eighth round.
“That was a fluke,” McNeeley said. “I won the first seven rounds, but he hit with me with an illegal blow and busted up my eye. I needed 40 stitches after the fight.”
Many boxing observers think McNeeley will be in worse shape after fighting Tyson, who has knocked out 36 of 42 opponents. The third-generation fighter from Medfield, Mass., said he won’t be intimidated.
“I’m going to surprise a lot of people,” he said. “I’m not changing my style for anybody. Basically I’m a puncher, and I’m going to try to knock him out.”
McNeeley’s sparring partner, Garing Lane, gives him a puncher’s chance.
“One good punch, and anything can happen,” said Lane, who has fought Larry Holmes, Riddick Bowe and Trevor Berbick. “Plus, you have to remember Tyson hasn’t fought for a long time. When Michael Jordan came back, he didn’t shoot very well. It may be the same thing with Tyson.”
At the sparring session, McNeeley was surrounded by photographers, reporters and well-wishers. While he admits the attention can be distracting, McNeeley says he is “enjoying the ride.”
“It’s better than being ignored,” he said. “I was at a concert recently, and they invited me up on stage to introduce one of the bands. That probably wouldn’t happen if I wasn’t fighting Mike Tyson.”
When McNeeley entered the room, he was accompanied by the “Rocky” theme. It isn’t his only connection with the Sylvester Stallone character.
“Tommy Morrison beat me out for that role in ‘Rocky V,”’ said McNeeley, who will reportedly receive $750,000 for the Tyson bout. “But I’m fighting Mike Tyson and he isn’t.”
McNeeley’s father, Tom Jr., was knocked out by heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson in 1961.
“When I was 7 years old, I climbed into the attic and found a copy of ‘Sports Illustrated’ with my dad on the cover,” McNeeley said. “That’s when my dream started.”
Vin Vecchione, the boxer’s manager and trainer, thinks McNeeley can hold his own against Tyson.
“There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that he belongs in the ring with Mike Tyson,” Vecchione said.
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